The Love Boat People

Sometimes people who live in lands of milk and honey meet and fall in love with people from lands of dirty water and sorghum. They get married and then the milk and honey spouse sponsors the water and sorghum spouse to immigrate to Canada so they can live happily ever after.

Sometimes they do.

Sometimes they don’t. 

Sometimes the sponsored spouse just takes off as soon as he or she sets foot in this country. In Canada, the immigrating spouse is granted permanent resident status as soon as they enter the country.

Unfortunately, when you sponsor a spouse for immigration you also make yourself financially responsible for them for the next three years. If your spouse takes off and applies for welfare, Social Assistance recovers the money from you. If your spouse incurs debts; you have to pay them.

This seems to happen quite a lot though we rarely hear anything about it – until Ottawa artist, Lainie Towell.

Lainie went on an educational trip to Guinea in 2004 and met a guy named Soumah.  They got married in 2006 in a traditional wedding ceremony. All Lainie’s friends and family went to Guinea to attend. 

In December of 2007, the couple officially moved to Canada. Four weeks later, as soon as the husband got his official residency documents, he took off.

Unlike many other victims of this kind of marriage fraud, Lainie went public. She contacted her Member of Parliament, Canadian Immigration, the Canadian Border Services Agency and every newspaper, magazine,  television and radio station she could get hold of.

Last Thursday she put on her wedding gown, strapped a door to her back and protested in front of the Parliament Buildings. (As in “her marriage was just a door for this guy through which to enter the country and now she is burdened with his debts” – very symbolic).

Wedding Immigration 20090423

Of course government doesn’t want people marrying Canadians just so they can become citizens, but the system doesn’t allow for any quick resolutions. Even divorcing Soumah doesn’t absolve Lainie from financial responsibility and it could take years before any of this is resolved.

You can’t help but feel sorry for Lainie. However:

  1. If the government lets Lainie off the hook, is it right that the taxpayer, via social assistance should have to support this Soumah guy, until the government manages to get him deported – if ever. And not just him, but every man and woman who marries a Canadian citizen to get into the country and then abandons them.
  2. What will any official resolution of this situation mean to immigrants who marry Canadians in good faith, but who are then abandoned by the Canadian for whatever reason?
  3. Or immigrants who marry Canadians and are abused by them and escape and then will have no source of support?
  4. Some people say getting duped by someone who they thought loved them happens to almost everyone at some point. We all have had to live with the consequences – sometimes they’re small and cost us only a few weeks of recrimination. Sometimes they’re big and cost us a great deal. What makes Lainie so special? 

27 responses to “The Love Boat People

  1. I think the law is intended to deter Canadians from entering into fake marriages for financial gain, thereby allowing people to enter the country who otherwise wouldn’t qualify. I personally know someone who married his mother’s housekeeper just so she could stay here. He had no interest in her, he was just doing his mom a favour.

    Lainie’s case is different though. She was scammed. I feel bad for her.

    I don’t know what the solution is. How do you balance the rights of the innocent victim of a scam artist against the rights of the country not to pay the price for her error in judgement?

  2. Lainie represents all the other people who were screwed by scum bags looking to come over so they lied and manipulated to come to North America. Its disgusting. I think this Soumah guy should be on the hook for not only his debts but for causing emotional distress and suffering.

  3. I couldn’t help but to reply to your post. I think it needs to be underlined that this costs all Canadians and not just (me), Lainie.

    How so? Well, after the three year sponsorship is up, and, if he collects social assistance – who do you think it costs? Canadian taxpayers. Furthermore, his legal aid bills are paid for by taxpayers throughout his admissibility hearings and immigration appeal process. The process is very slow due to departmental backlog. When you look at all the other cases we never hear about, it is a huge waste of Canadian tax dollars.

    Carry on, I am happy to see that a debate has been sparked by my actions.

  4. It’s a tough ne I know a guy who was paid several thousand dollars to marry/sponsor an immigrant. If the newcomer becomes a burden then why shouldn’t the citizen pay.
    At the same time the length of time it takes to find, try and deport an unwanted person is just absurd.
    Perhaps this sort of story will warn others to be very very careful about sponsoring people to come to Canada. I think the same happens if you sponsor relatives etc.

  5. Interesting story — I saw it in the paper. And how great Lainie chimed in herself! People will always take advantage of other people. And people — like me — will be surprised, perplexed and spitting mad every time it happens.

  6. wow. nuts.

    i have a cousin that went to china for work and met ‘his love’.

    he brought her back here. but, she waited 3 years.. practically to the day to leave him.

    at least she was nice about it.

  7. it makes me so angry that things like this happen. i am really curious to see what the outcome will be

  8. On the plus side, not many folk get to wear their dress a second time.

    Good on her though- personally i think I’d get a posse together of all my mates and hound the guy down and beat him with sticks. But maybe that’s just me….

  9. Zoom – That’s the question all right. And without adjusting the laws to the extent that it would almost impossible for anyone to legitimately marry a Canadian citizen and live here legally. And without making it too easy for unscrupulous Canadians to ship in mail-order spouses for unscrupulous purposes. Tricky.

    Hannah – He is a scumbag and there are plenty more like him. And I do believe the government is investigating the situation and working on trying to get him deported… but you know how long that could take and who pays his bills in the meantime? You? Me? Or poor Lainie? People marry creeps all the time and are often on the hook for crap they do. It’s sad, but it’s part of the whole love/marriage gamble.

    Lainie – Hi. Thanks so much for your comment. I understand very well that we’re all on the hook for this guy’s keep as long as he’s in the country. I’m so very sorry that this happened to you both from a financial standpoint and from an emotional one. Many of us have been taken in by someone somewhere along the line, blinded by love, etc., etc. Probably not to this extent and with such far reaching ramifications, but we can certainly empathize. I hope this resolves itself quickly and that he is punished for this fraud against you and against our government. I’ll be following the story closely.

    Bandobras – I don’t know how much more careful Lainie could have been. It was 3 years before she brought him over here – not some flash in the pan holiday romance or online connection. And you’re right, the deportation process is incredibly long and cumbersome – especially in circumstances like this. I understand he’s just claiming that the marriage didn’t work out. And that could happen. Let’s say a man gets a mail order bride, brings her over. She finds out he’s totally misrepresented himself and he treats her like crap. She leaves the marriage after only a month or two. Yes, she’s been foolish, but should she have to be deported or should he have to stand by his commitment to her and to our government to support her for the next 3 years? It’s a very tough situation all around.

    Ellie – Yes. On a purely emotional basis, it’s very maddening and you just want to gather an angry mob with pitchforks and flaming torches to escort buddy back to the airport. But then there’s the whole legal rigmarole. They have to do things differently, I guess.

    Jobthingy – Ah well. That’s a long time to stay in a marriage if you don’t want to be there, so I reckon she’s paid her dues. Poor cousin – but love and marriage is always kind of hit or miss anyway.

    J – Me too. I suspect Lainie (and all of us) are going to be on the hook financially until they can get this guy back to his own country. Which could be a while.

    MissyM – Ha ha! Yes, I’m sure she’s glad she got some extra use out of that wedding dress. It probably won’t be lovingly stored and saved for the next generation I imagine. Also, see my comment to Ellie, re” angry posse. That’s pretty much exactly my recommendation.

  10. I get to say this, because I have done the same thing and it cost me a lot. So here goes, marrying someone that you have dated long distance, or you have known for a very short period of time is asking to end up just as this woman has.

    Bottom line, when we make big honkering mistakes we end up having to pay for them. In this case it sounds like the Canadian government comes right out and says basically the same thing.

  11. SWAM (Single White American Male) seeks SWCF (Single White Canadian Female) for long walks on the snow, hockey and other stuff that Canadians like to do. Must be financially independent and opposed to protesting. Pics upon request.

  12. The media can be very influential and so can Lainie Towell.

    I personally know Mr. Soumah. Firstly, Mr. Soumah has never received any social assistance nor has he obtained legal aid. Mr. Soumah is a working citizen who is contributing to in many aspects to Canada and its people.

    This is not marriage fraud, and its even been confirmed by Canadian Immigration at Mr. Soumah’s admissibility hearing.

    This to me is simply a disgruntled spouse that wants her spouse to collect welfare and legal aid so that Canada would be more likely reject his appeal.

    The slander we’ve been a witness to could possibly hinder his opportunities for future jobs and so on.

    And the attention that Mrs. Towell has received from media and supporters, could help with her project for her book.

    There are always two sides to every story. Please look deeper, with eyes wide open into this story, you’re missing the other side.

  13. I was going to kick in with this thought. When through no ones fault the marriage comes apart. the immigrant doesn’t need to run up debts go on welfare etc.
    There are an awful lot of people who get here and then do exactly as they thought, make a better life for themselves.
    If they do incur debts any honorable person pays them off.
    If you sponsor someone to come here you put yourself at risk.
    Just like hooking up with a woman with children. If you do it understand what it might mean and make your best decision. If it goes in the crapper you have to pay so be careful.

  14. Cedar – Well, we do have a rule about people not marrying Canadians solely for the purposed of becoming Canadian citizens. I reckon this is pretty tough to prove in a lot of cases. Even if the spouse takes off after just a couple of weeks, who’s to say he didn’t just take off because he didn’t like her? That happens in all sort of unions. Really big honkering mistakes are made all the time by people “in lurve”

    Mayopie – Must wash hands before and after using toilet and/or preparing meals.

    Look Deeper – Thank you for this perspective. I can only go by what I’m reading and hearing in the media. And I read quite a few articles before posting this. I will admit to a smidgen of suspicion about Ms Towell’s decision to go very public with this given her profession and the whole publicity angle. I’m surprised that I’ve heard no mention of Mr. Soumah’s gainfully employed status or that he is paying his own legal fees in this matter. So, after 3 years of waiting to start life in Canada with his new wife, Mr. Soumah suddenly decided after only 4 weeks that he no longer wished to be married to Ms Towell? I guess it’s the timing that adds credibility to Ms Towell’s account of the story. I know I have a fairly small audience compared to the newspapers, magazines, and TV Ms Towell has been speaking to, but I’d be happy to speak with Mr. Soumah and present his point of view.

    Bandobras – Very true. And perhaps Mr. Soumah has indeed gone off to live an honourable life, not sticking his wife with his debts. That’s not what we’re hearing so far, however. Perhaps there’s more to the story??

  15. We were supposed to feel sorry for her? If she’s anything like my artist friend, she is dumb as a spoon when it comes to men. Is that an artist thing?

  16. If she is writing a book – I say good for her for trying to turn lemons into lemonade.

    Who in their right mind would subject themselves to this kind of public scutiny for a book deal. Seriously. A know I journal when things get complicated in my life, but I don’t think they’d make for interesting reading.

    I would like to read this woman’s book!

    I also don’t believe for a second that he paid for his own lawyer. As for not being found guilty of marriage fraud, I though that was the whole point of her going public, because it is nearly impossible to prove marriage fraud under the current system.

    The fact that he did get proven guilty of lying to the government of Canada is good enough for me to say good riddance.

  17. Blond Ambition – You can provide me your e-mail address and I’ll scan the receipts from the lawyer’s office. Furtheremore, Mr. Soumah’s income is too high to obtain legal aid.

    Per Mr. Soumah, his first month in Canada was extreme culture shock. He had never once left his family and friends and began to live in an apartment with ONE other person. Mr. Soumah comes from a family of 14 children. He stated that from the first week Lainie Towell would complain about the increased cost of living. Which is normal if said the right way. So Mr. Soumah asked Mrs. Towell to help him obtain a job. Per Mr. Soumah, she said that he was to go to school for English class, accompagny her African dance classes, and perform for any gigs she would get. Doesn’t sound that bad for a parent-child relationship, but for married grown adults, I don’t think so.

    And then comes the baby story, which of course for any relationship would add a lot of tension, jealousy, etc. Lainie Towell openly admits that the tension led to a violent outburst. Mr. Soumah said she slapped him and threw their wedding picture at him. She says she didn’t slap him but threw the wedding picture on the floor.
    For a Canadian man, he may have not left, but for an African suffering from EXTREME CULTURE SHOCK, I think differently.

    Also, you must understand that under civil law, someone can be found guilty even if a doubt to their guilt exists. In this case, there is no proof that he is the biological father.

    This media publicity is great in some way; so that both immigrants understand the implications of the documents they sign and so that Canadians as sponsors understand the clauses stipulated in the contracts they sign.

    I don’t doubt Lainie Towell’s talent, however there are so many important elements that are missing from the story she provides, to me it seems a case of vengeance.

    Per Mr. Soumah, after their separation when they had spoken on the phone, Lainie Towell had accused him of coming to Canada to compete with her.

    Lainie Towell is a business woman, since she met Mr. Soumah, they began a business relationship of importing drums and other African items. Also, Mr. Soumah would organize her study trips, and so on. Both sides profited from the relationship, but Lainie Towell profited much more. Just like many corporations: they target desperate third world victims, they’re viewed as godsends. But in this case the reward is different. If Mr. Soumah could do exactly as she wanted, they would marry.

    I know there are victims of marriage fraud and I truly feel for them. This case does not reflect marriage fraud in any way.

    Again, LOOK DEEPER….

  18. Much more than the individuals here, I see a failure of the immigration system. Pramila Jayapal put it very well in an interview with The Sun – though she was discussing U.S. politics particularly, the first world/ third world dynamic is relevant and applies equally to Canada. She said:
    “The reasons people immigrate are multifaceted. More people are moving around the world today because of political, social, and economic strife than ever before. Many times it is U.S. foreign policy driving this migration. For instance, after the North American Free Trade Agreement [nafta] was passed, more than a million Mexican farmers were driven out of business because they could not compete with subsidized U.S. farmers, and undocumented immigration from Mexico rose by 60 percent. If somebody has to leave his or her home to earn a living, you could describe that as “seeking opportunity,” or you could call it “forced migration.” NAFTA talks about a “borderless world” in which goods are freely traded back and forth, but if people can’t legally travel across the border and access jobs on the other side, these trade agreements benefit only corporations, many of which relocate just across the Mexican border so they can pay lower wages.

    And when we talk about the causes of immigration, let’s not forget that the U.S. media broadcast around the globe the idea that America is a luxurious and ideal place to live, a place where you can find opportunities that you can’t get anywhere else. If we advertise that America is the best country in the world, then we shouldn’t be surprised when people show up.” [/quote]

    Whatever reasons people have for moving about, privately controlled corporations essentially control the legality of the moves – mainly through the democratic puppet of government, which is almost totally controlled by private interests and not by citizens. It is worth it to us to look at the question, ‘whom (or what) do these immigration policies
    serve best?’ and when looked at that way, I think it is clear that it is in the best interests of private companies to have starkly different classes of people in ranked ‘worlds’ (i.e. first, second, third). Only by dividing these classes against each other – people who make $45,000 a year pitted against people who make $5,000 a year by people who make $55 billion a year – can those corporations maintain control.

    Free immigration across borders would not suit corporate interests at all; if anyone who wanted to could move freely to where the social programs were most progressive, we would see a rapid improvement in social conditions worldwide, and less life force would be easily drained for use by these private tyrannies for their own profit.

    The only logical purpose this immigration policy of Canada’s serves is to deter mass migration from less socially progressive countries to ones which are more so. And the only logical outcome of restricted migration is the shifting of costs (monetary, environmental, social) by corporations for the purpose of control.

  19. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why France makes it so difficult to get legal papers. They sure did with me. I hope those who are innocent in Canada get some legal help when taken in by a lying spouse.

  20. Alison – Touche.

    Geewits – Are any of us smarter than cutlery when it comes to intimate relationships? I defy you to find me one person who has made nothing but excellent choices in romantic partners. But of course there are those who simply refuse to learn by their mistakes…

    BlondAmbition – You’re right. Proving marriage fraud is next to impossible, especially when Canada has only 8 immigration officials available to investigate the hundreds of cases of “marriages of convenience” across the country. Dude is going to be in town for a long, long time.

    Look Deeper – I think it’s pretty clear that the child back in Africa that Mr. Soumah had with a 14-year-old girl is his. His own parents have taken the child in to help raise him. They are, no doubt, ashamed that their son is not man enough to accept responsibility for his own child. He broke immigration law by not telling immigration officials about a child he had in his homeland. That alone should get him deported. But he has the right to appeal that ; which he is and which is going to take years and years to process. For a man with “extreme culture shock” he seems to have done quite well for himself if he’s earning enough to afford years and years of legal fees.

    AutieHallie – Now you’re opening a whole other kettle of fish. I agree with most of what your’e saying/quoting, but I’m not sure that the free immigration across borders is a particularly good thing. Canada is among the easiest, if not THE easiest country to immigrate to. And, we have an impossibly complex system of deporting people who are here illegally (latest estimate is approximately 200,000). So, overall we probably have the closest thing to a wide open border – which apparantly is the main reason why the US has slammed shut their border between us and them. How do you see social conditions improving worldwide through free immigration?

    Linda – The “lying spouse” part is very difficult to prove. If you left your husband once you got your papers how could anyone prove that you only married him to get your French citizenship? You could claim all sorts of stuff (like the guy in this story is doing) about abuse and slavery. It will be your word against his.

  21. I’m sorry Look Deeper, but I’ve had to delete your last comment. There was information in there which I believe is totally out of line and possibly even libelous. As long as you want to present information directly related to Mr. Soumah, feel free, but I will not allow personal, defammatory information about Ms Towell or information which has not previously appeared in a public document.

  22. If Lainie thinks that that he’ll be on welfare after three years of being in Canada, why would she bring him here in the first place.

    If he would still be with her, would he not be subject to welfare after three years of being in Canada ?

    I’m confused.

  23. Made in Quebec – If you sponsor someone for citizenship you must assume financial responsibility for them for 3 years. When you bring a spouse over I guess the presumption is that they’ll be living with you and you support them until they find a job, maybe while they go to school and learn English, stuff like that. If your spouse dumps you after only 4 weeks of you bringing him over, he probably only married you to become a Canadian citizen. Now he’s out there on his own. He needs money if he hasn’t found a job in 4 weeks (which is likely) SO, he goes on welfare. Welfare gets the money back from Lainie. Obviously, she didn’t bring him over here to go on welfare. She brought him over thinking he was going to be her husband in which case she would be willing to support him. But, she’s not too thrilled about supporting him anymore since she found out he only used her to get into the country. Does it make sense now?

  24. it’s not really a wide open border when you account for the rights of the people who aren’t there legally. sure, they can’t be deported – but if they can’t work legally, they are at the mercy of whatever conditions are offered to them as illegal immigrants. which is as bad as conditions get, right down there with slavery.

    which is exactly what corporations want: people at the mercy of the conditions they offer. and what they offer is always the least they can get away with.

  25. that whole being responsible for their debts rather annoys me, always has. it’s why our mom never tried to get us married off, and why she told us to have secret “side” bank accounts.

    our bio dad left her with three babies and no money or child support. it was a big deal to her that her girls never struggle like she did.

    it took me a long time to figure out how to balance it out and not run from anything that resembled a committed relationship.