Married couple kept apart

She’s in St. John’s, he’s in Ghana, and in between are miles of bureaucracy and red tape

Barb Sweet
Published on February 15, 2014

Two days before Valentine’s Day, Dr. Danielle LeBlanc and her Ghanaian husband, Paul Van-Tay, got crushing news from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The federal department turned down Van-Tay’s application for a permanent resident visa, suggesting he didn’t give the right answers during an interview, but not explaining exactly what went wrong.

“Based on your interview at our office, and a review of the documentation submitted, I am not satisfied your relationship with your sponsor is genuine,” Van-Tay was told in the Feb. 12 letter, which was signed but did not spell out the name of the immigration officer rejecting him.

“I am not satisfied you are customarily married to your sponsor. You were advised of the concerns during your interview, but were unable to satisfy me they were unfounded. As a result, for the purpose of the regulations, you are not considered to be a member of the family class.”

LeBlanc, a surgical resident in St. John’s, had not seen Van-Tay for a year and a half — because he was denied a visitor’s visa to Canada — but she visited him in December in Ghana.

And they have been in constant contact through phone, Skype, text and social media since beginning a relationship and then marrying in 2012.

She said she fell in love with him even more deeply when she visited in December.

“I am so angry,” she said this week of her frustrating attempts to get answers from the federal department and the embassy in Ghana, dating back to their decision to marry.

“Not everyone’s marriage gets scrutinized in as much detail as ours has. … No one is accountable for the negative impact these people who are making decisions (are having) on my life and on my husband’s life.”

As The Telegram reported in May 2013, the couple was twice turned down by Citizenship and Immigration Canada for a visitor’s visa.

The reasons for the rejections — then and now — seem dizzying: a bureaucratic catch-22 that continues on.

 On the second visitor’s visa application, the couple put together about 80 pages of documents — gathered by LeBlanc in Canada and Van-Tay in Accra, Ghana — and a more detailed application they felt would be no-fail.

The scanned documents included copies of LeBlanc’s medical diploma, a letter stating her resident’s income, Van-Tay’s bank statements, identification documents, a clearance certificate from the Ghana police for Van-Tay, as well as letters from family members, the priest who married them and even Van-Tay’s father’s boss, who was a wedding guest. And a slew of photos.

But the visa was refused again.

There didn’t seem to be any other possible concern about why Van-Tay couldn’t visit Canada — Citizenship and Immigration told The Telegram after the couple signed consent forms last year that criminality was not cited as a factor in the rejection.

Rather, the reasons seemed mostly hypothetical. Last year, visa officers attributed the rejection to the fact that Van-Tay has a Canadian spouse, but had not yet made a family-class application for permanent residency.

They did not apply for a permanent residency right away because of the time it takes to obtain documents in Ghana, and as a surgical resident, LeBlanc’s schedule was then, and remains, hectic.

After their marriage, she was adjusting to moving to St. John’s from her native Ottawa, where she got her medical degree.

But since the visitor’s visa rejections, the couple has indeed applied for permanent residency and hit the latest brick wall, even though LeBlanc was approved as a spousal sponsor last summer.

When LeBlanc visited Van-Tay in December, they went to the Canadian embassy in Accra so any documents or other information that may have been needed for their application could be clarified while she was there.

LeBlanc said she could not get past the Ghanaian receptionists to speak to a Canadian immigration officer.

She had emailed and called immigration officials in Canada   many times previously, but got nowhere.

The couple also tried to get an appointment at the embassy prior to their marriage ceremony to get advice on what documents and marriage procedures they would need to make the application go as smoothly as possible.

After being rebuffed at the Ghanian embassy, she complained to Foreign Affairs.

Van-Tay eventually got a lengthy interview and told LeBlanc the officer wasn’t happy with their marriage papers.

“What hurts me most is they wouldn’t talk to you, they wouldn’t contact you seeking information from you,” Van-Tay said to his wife in a Skype conversation about the unwillingness of the immigration officer to clear up any details.

LeBlanc also said the officer seemed doubtful of Van-Tay’s knowledge of his wife’s work routine — which changes daily, saying he hasn’t been here to know the details of it — and also questioned whether their wedding photos were legitimate.  

They can appeal, but LeBlanc noted they have to indicate at the start of the appeal whether they have legal counsel.

“I found that kind of weird,” she said.

The young couple did not intend to have a wedding when she visited in summer 2012, but had previously talked about getting engaged.

LeBlanc had wondered if things would be the same in person, as much of their relationship had unfolded via Skype, text and social media when she came back to Canada after completing a surgical pediatric elective in Accra, where she had met Van-Tay.

But when she returned to Ghana for a visit, he was the best friend she’d been talking to on Skype for months.

The couple planned an eventual second wedding in Canada, but that hasn’t happened because Van-Tay was denied the visitor’s visa.

The couple’s bond is a love of humanitarian aid — she’d done some work in Tanzania and wanted to do an elective in a developing country.

LeBlanc got to know Van-Tay because she was looking for a way to donate toys, over-the-counter children’s medicine and other items she had brought with her to Ghana.

Van-Tay, then a porter at the hostel where she was staying, helped her get them to a nearby school for street kids where he’d done some volunteer work.

In 2013, the federal department told The Telegram it does not have a policy or bias against applicants from Ghana.

Meanwhile the consent form that Van Tay and LeBlanc signed in 2013 allowing The Telegram to discuss their case was declared invalid late Friday by Citizenship and Immigration Canada after a new copy of it was requested.

Once the department received the completed necessary form, it said it needed a new one signed.