'An absolute travesty'; B.C. man with bipolar disorder deported to the Netherlands after 58 years in Canada
Len Van Heest, right, with his mom, Trixie, and nephew Caine. (Postmedia Network files)
A 59-year-old B.C. man who came to Canada as a baby was deported to the Netherlands on Monday because of crimes he committed while suffering from bipolar disorder.
Len Van Heest lost a last-ditch attempt to stay in Canada when Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton rejected his request for a judicial review of his case late Friday.
That cleared the way for the Canada Border Services Agency to escort him to Amsterdam on a flight that left at 3:40 p.m. Monday.
Van Heest doesn't speak Dutch and has only distant relatives in the country he left as a seven-month-old baby.
The Courtenay man was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a 16-year-old. He has a string of criminal convictions for assault, uttering threats and mischief related to his mental illness, with the last offence committed in 2012. Those convictions made him ineligible to remain in Canada as he is not a Canadian citizen.
His brother Daniel Van Heest told Postmedia on Monday that the deportation was unfair and inhumane.
"I have contempt for the system that has lead to my brother's deportation. It is a humanitarian case and the government is turning a blind eye to it," he said. "The fact is, it is not fair."
Ujjal Dosanjh, a former B.C. premier and federal Liberal cabinet minister, said the deportation of someone with a mental illness who has been in Canada for almost six decades is "an absolute travesty."
"Here is a man who came as a child, doesn’t know the language (of his birth country), has never been to another place, and we are sending him back to a place that he has not seen for the last 58 years," Dosanjh said. "How is it compassionate and fair to send someone who is essentially ... a Canadian, with the exception of a piece of paper. It is wrong."
In December 2015, Dosanjh wrote an open letter to Immigration Minister John McCallum, urging him to reconsider Van Heest's case on humanitarian grounds. He said Monday that he never heard back from his former colleague.
"I just think that the law is an ass in this case,” Dosanjh said. "And I don’t think the law should be allowed to be an ass. The minister has the discretion to ensure that the law is compassionate. The legal thing is not always the fair and the right thing to do, and in this case it isn’t.”
In January, Federal Court Judge James O’Reilly rejected Van Heest’s challenge of a CBSA officer refusing to defer his removal from Canada.
O’Reilly said the CBSA had done everything it could to provide a list of social services that would be available to Van Heest once he landed in the Netherlands.
“The CBSA officer found that, given the agency’s limited capacity to make provisions for a Canadian citizen in a foreign country, adequate arrangements had been made for Mr. Van Heest’s removal,” O’Reilly said, mistakenly referring to Van Heest as a Canadian citizen.
Last week, Van Heest’s lawyer Robert Bajer was back in Federal Court arguing for a final chance for his client.
He pointed to a letter written by a retired John Howard Society outreach worker who knows Van Heest.
“I believe Len is more likely to be a harm to himself and others if he is moved to an unknown environment,” the letter said. “Len has told me more than once that he would kill himself if he is sent to the Netherlands because he would have nothing to live for.”
Federal government lawyer Helen Park said all the evidence shows that Van Heest is more stable now and that he was resigned to moving to the Netherlands where a family friend had offered to meet him at the airport.
And she said there is no medical evidence in the case “that Mr. Van Heest would harm himself” if removed from Canada.
Bajer said Van Heest's "criminal acts are related to him being off his medication and his taking drugs and alcohol. He has reached a state of stability with his mental illness."
Crampton said during the hearing that Van Heest could have spent more time making arrangements for his new life in Europe.
"It seems like he’s had lots of time, but hasn’t taken any steps whatsoever," he said.