By Dale Smith
Alarm went through the queer community last week when the Toronto Sun reported that Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) was toughening up background checks of same-sex sponsorship claims.
“A demand for same-sex sponsorships in 2010 forced officials in Ottawa to review the same-sex policy to plug a possible loophole, documents show,” the Sun article claims.
The issue revolves around marriages performed in foreign embassies. Certain countries will allow marriages to be performed in their embassies or foreign missions, though this is rare. Even though the embassy is considered to be the soil of the country it represents, marriages performed there must be valid in the host country.
For example, a same-sex couple in Nigeria couldn’t simply go to the Dutch embassy to get married. While the embassy itself is considered Dutch territory, the marriage would have to conform to Nigerian law.
Canadian embassies and foreign missions do not perform marriage ceremonies.
When looking into the claims of tightened rules or a review to close a loophole, Xtra spoke to CIC, which denied that the rules had been changed.
“It’s something that was always in our regulations,” says a spokesperson for CIC. “It’s kind of common sense that the marriage has to be legal in the country in which it takes place, and that’s for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.”
Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer who made the original access to information request, said in an email that he suspected the Sun might have engaged in “creative headlining.”
“CIC did not 'toughen' at all, and certainly not just for 'same sex,'” Kurland says. “Actually, it's the opposite for special cases.”
Pointing to the document provided under ATIP, Kurland adds, “CIC is certainly not singling out same-sex marriages for special treatment to say 'no.'”
The document cited doesn’t speak of either a policy review or a loophole, nor is there any evidence of a demand for same-sex sponsorship claims.
When asked if CIC has documented cases of immigration fraud using same-sex couple sponsorship, CIC said that it doesn’t track marriage fraud statistics, as they fall under a larger umbrella of “misrepresentation.”
Canadian immigration policy currently allows for sponsorship for same-sex spouses, common-law partners and a category called conjugal partners.
“This category is for partners — either of the opposite sex or same sex — in exceptional circumstances beyond their control that prevent them from qualifying as common-law partners or spouses by living together,” says the definition on the CIC website. “A conjugal relationship is more than a physical relationship. It means you depend on each other, there is some permanence to the relationship and there is the same level of commitment as a marriage or a common-law relationship.”
This category can include people who are separated by an immigration barrier, who live in countries where divorce is not permitted, or where same-sex relationships are not permitted.
All three categories use the same immigration form, so the process is no more or less onerous, though burden of proof remains to prove that the relationship is real, no matter if it is opposite sex or same sex.
“It’s basically that you have to provide evidence that there is a reason that you could not live together,” says the spokesperson on the issue of conjugal relationships.