The Canadian Association for Disabled Skiers (CADS) is holding their annual family festival at the Kimberley Alpine Resort this week. The week includes adaptive ski improvement lessons, camaraderie, fun games, on snow activities, and a wind up Awards banquet.
Taking part in this week’s festivities are two young men with ties to Kimberley. Both were brought here by the Friends of Burma group as refugees.
Ta Hay Tha, a Karen refugee from Myanmar, has lived in Kimberley with his mother and extended family for five years. He is a familiar sight on the slopes of the Kimberley Alpine Resort.
Anderson Losada, a Colombian refugee, came to Kimberley, again with assistance from Friends of Burma, several years ago and lived here for three years. He stepped on a land mine as a child and is an amputee. He has since moved with his family to Calgary, but remains in touch with Shauna Jimenez of Friends of Burma. In fact, Jimenez brought Anderson to Kimberley to take part in CADS this week.
She says it’s great to see both young men enjoying themselves this week, but says that both are missing out on other opportunities because they are ineligible for Canadian citizenship.
It is especially heartbreaking for Anderson, Jimenez says, because he has successfully qualified for a spot to compete in the Canadian National Ski competition in Whistler. But he can’t go because he doesn’t have a Canadian passport.
“This 16 year old known to many of us in Kimberley, has received support from many generous local residents, the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiers (CADS) and the WarAmps of Canada,” Jimenez said. “With his CADS coach in Calgary, he has been working diligently to get ready to compete in the Canadian National finals for Disabled Skiers.”
Neither Anderson nor Ta Hay Tha can apply for Canadian citizenship until they are 18. And because their mothers are not fluent enough in English to pass the citizenship test themselves, the boys cannot become citizens until then.
“Although Anderson and his family have lived in Canada for over five years, they are ineligible for Canadian citizenship due to recent changes to the citizenship application rules,” Jimenez said.
“His mother must first prove she is fluent in English (at level CLB 4 in Listening and Speaking) before she can even apply to try the increasingly difficult Canadian citizenship test. While fleeing persecution in her country of origin, she was unable to attend school, making it almost impossible for her to become fluent and literate enough in English to apply for citizenship. Thus, these recent policy changes prevent this family, like so many refugees, from obtaining Canadian citizenship and prevent this youth from competing in our national final competitions.”
Both boys can apply when they are 18, but in the meantime, they and their siblings and other children of refugees in the same situation are missing out.
“They can’t get a passport and that prevents them in participating in many things — simple things like the yearly trip for McKim students to Silverwood and others like the possibility of making the Canadian Para-Alpine team,” Jimenez said.
“Refugees like these families deserve a different application process for citizenship; one that does not prevent them from ever belonging. Refugees like this family are stateless. They do not belong to any nation. No matter how long they live here, and pay taxes to our government, they will remain excluded. A vibrant reminder that Canada is now for the rich and the privileged only, based on recent policy changes affecting refugee sponsorship and citizenship. Many of our parents and grandparents would never have become Citizens of Canada if this government had been in power with their current policies and regulations.”
Jimenez says the Act is constantly changing and the process to apply for Canadian citizenship becoming ever more onerous. She says it is highly unlikely either mother — due to circumstances beyond their control — will ever be fluent enough to meet the high standards of the citizenship test. And because of the regulations, even though both Ta Hay Tha and Anderson Lasodo are fluent, they cannot apply as youth.
“We know too well what happens to youth who are constantly and deliberately excluded from meaningful participation in society. Canada was once known for our compassion towards refugees; a reputation many Canadians remain proud of, unaware that this has been totally destroyed over the past three years,” she said.