Marriage Fraud: Responding to a Real or Exaggerated Crisis?

It’s easy to understand the anger following the recent news story about a Canadian woman who married a Cuban man, only to have him leave her days after he arrived here. Her story is not a happy one. It is certainly something that worked its way through our discussion threads within the Ontario Humanist Society.

As is often the case, that story helped encourage others to come forward — telling their stories of marriage fraud. In one case, a Toronto man married a Cuban woman he met and then visited four times. She left him after her daughter arrived. The man says he was left broken-hearted — and more — he was left paying a $3,800 bill from the province for welfare benefits his “wife” has since collected. Awful and unfair for sure. Marriage fraud is not to be taken lightly.

However, in the modern world where people marry — often with great success — after meeting through online networks, we must not be too quick to judge others who follow their hearts and marry “foreign” love interests. The warning signs are not always apparent. I have conducted wedding ceremonies with couples from different parts of the world who met online or on holiday or simply after knowing each other after a very short time. There are always inherent risks involved — emotional, physical and monetary — and there are never guarantees of a successful marriage. One woman I know actually tested the waters closer to home — having her then-boyfriend from Honduras come to Canada several times for several months at a time just on a visitors’ visa. In the end, that relationship played itself out and fizzled out before any long term mistakes might have been made. The problem is, it’s not always easy to obtain those visas – particularly when you come from poorer countries.

What some worry about however, is that anecdotal or as one article argues “minimal and unconvincing evidence” is being used as a basis for changes in government policy such as the amendments to Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, which now include a probationary period for sponsored partners, similar to the United States, the U.K. and Australia for instance — a move some critics fear will in fact “disproportionately impact and expose sponsored partners to abuse and violence“.

These same critics write that we must be careful to protect our rights as Canadians — historically free to sponsor “foreign spouses, common law and conjugal partners“. It’s not like even that’s been easy with processing times for spousal visas having grown longer over the years. We also know that there are many hardworking people who have left their families in order to better support them — by working here in Canada – only to find growing wait times to sponsor their families. Some are waiting years and years before having spouses and children arrive here — becoming increasingly disconnected from the families they are supporting — a family reunification nightmare that is having a negative impact on the women and men here and in their families back in their birth countries.

Let’s be clear: I feel nothing but sympathy for these poor souls who thought they were embarking on an honest relationship and there should be the funds available to properly investigate claims of marriage fraud. However, I believe we need to continue to be compassionate — with open minds and hearts when it comes to love, marriage and our honest efforts to build families — even if we can’t always be entirely sure — because for all those dishonest cases, there are many, many honest ones — who will fall through those ever-widening cracks.

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