Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Long Immigration saga for the Viviers finally nears an end

After nine years of residency in Prince Rupert, the Viviers can almost finally call the place home.

The saga of the South African family that moved here because of our wet and cloudy climate has been the subject of many a newspaper article and television and radio report over the years, but like an unfinished novel the story never seemed to have an ending.

That will soon not be the case, as the family has finally received the much cherished permanent residents status that they have been seeking over the last number of years.
Their story was one of a community rallying to their support in their bid to seek out a special exemption from the more traditional route of immigration into Canada, an argument that was based on compassionate grounds owing to health concerns that the family had with Porphyria, an allergy to the sun that causes severe reactions to heat and light and made Prince Rupert perhaps the closest thing to heaven for the South African foursome.

The immigration process continues but is definitely in the home stretch now, with only medicals, criminal checks and a passport left before they can take their oath of citizenship as permanent residents.

The Daily News featured a review of their story and the many community members that played a part in it in Monday's paper. The story also was featured in the Vancouver Province.

Long fight to stay in Canada ends well for Viviers
By Patrick Witwicki
The Daily News
Monday, May 05, 2008
Page one and three

It's taken nearly an entire decade, but John Viviers finally feels like he can relax.
The former South African man and his family that fought so hard to become a part of Canada, and more specifically, Prince Rupert, finally received the notice they have been waiting for since their arrival on the North Coast in 1999 - that they have permanent residents status.

The notice arrived from Immigration Canada late-April, and made it official - the Viviers are here to stay.

"According to this, we are allowed to stay," he said.

"It's a little bit surreal that it's done."

Currently, John is the manager of the Source in Rupert Square Mall, and his family all work there.

But this decision has been a long time in coming, and even while working at the Source in the past year, the Viviers were never certain they would be allowed to stay in the country.
John and Maggie Viviers, along with their two children Domonic and Heloise, initially came to Rupert on what has been referred to as a "permanent vacation" because once they arrived and saw what the community had to offer, they had no intention on ever leaving following their holiday here.

And the reason was fairly simple - it was for the good of their health.

Three out of the four Viviers - John, Domonic and Heloise -suffer from a rare genetic skin disorder known as porphyria. It's basically an allergy to the sun that causes sever reactions to heat and light, and the Viviers were basically trapped indoors and suffering in the South African heat.

Even Maggie, the lone Viviers family member who is not affected by this condition, knew their family needed a change of scenery, so they began to research other areas in the world where they might be able to live out a normal life.

Among the other countries they looked at were Scotland, Norway and Sweden, but when they sent out requests to various World Porphyria Organizations, Canada was the only country to respond.

And Prince Rupert was the city recommended as the perfect remedy.

"(The Canadian Porphyria Foundation) did a survey, and found Rupert to be the most suitable weather-wise," said Maggie.

So, the Viviers came to Rupert on vacation, and they happened to pick a good year to do it - 1999 was the last La Nina, and Rupert was in the midst of a seven-month spell with a lot of rain, and barely any sun.

"People actually came to us and said, 'at least the weather is good for something,'" said Maggie.
As for the occasional sunny days, or even unexpected heatwaves (like the record-breaking weekend in June 2004), they are the only time the Viviers were reminded of their days in South Africa, and the have to "hide in the basement," said John.

But for the most part, the weather was just what the doctor ordered, so they decided they weren't leaving, and that's when things got complicated. The initial response from Canadian Immigration was to send the Viviers packing, but that quickly got the city of Prince Rupert involved. After all, the family was making their case that the reason they needed to stay in Rupert was for health reasons, and that they could never go back to their native South Africa.
"Rupert is an amazing place," said John. "And it's not just our case, it's a lot of other things - like the burning of (the Elizabeth Apartments), the town looked after those people. It's amazing people that live here."

Maggie added: "When there's problems, the town comes together."

But despite the national attention the Viviers' case received, the immigration battle went on for more than four years, and during that time, the Viviers were not allowed to work, nor were their children allowed to go to school. Without the help and support they received from the community of Prince Rupert, they never would have survived, and John referred to it as a "humbling experience."

"Normal, average people, just the ones that approached us in the beginning that fed us, and it was difficult for us to be in that situation, because we were financially capable of looking after ourselves, but we were in a very difficult position, and couldn't reach our funds back home," said John. "We couldn't travel back and forth, we couldn't work.

"So suddenly, we were able people coming to a country, and we had to rely on other people's generosity."

Immigration ministers changed, governments changed both provincially and federally, and throw in 9/11 for good measure, but still, nothing was happening, and the Viviers were always worried that at any moment, they might be forced to leave.

But Rupert itself has always had a survival-like instinct, and with backing from community businesses, the people, and city council, along with a helping hand from their legal counsel Catherine Sas, the Viviers fought on, despite the fact from 9/11 onwards the Canadian government had other immigration concerns on its mind.

"The country went into a state where it was looking for terrorists, (and yet) my case was not put on the back-burner, which I thanked them for it," said John.

"Immigration could have kicked us out, but they didn't.

"Yes, I would prefer that things would go faster, but there are too many variables to sit and blame everybody for this. And everything worked out."

Finally, in April 2004, the Viviers received a decision from the federal government that granted them a two-year temporary resident permit on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The fight to remain in Rupert was far from over, but at least the Viviers knew then that they could at least provide for themselves, as opposed to them having to count on others to remain in Canada.
"It was like, maybe," said John. "Okay, two years, we've got relief. That was the first step, and we could work.

"But yet, in the back of your mind, you still don't belong."

Meanwhile, Heloise and Domonic were finally allowed to complete their schooling, and both graduated with honours - Domonic from Prince Rupert Secondary School, and Heloise from Charles Hays.

The Viviers did all they could to show the community of Rupert that they intended to stay, and make it work, despite the fact Rupert's economy, since their arrival in 1999, had been in decline.
The two-year exemption meant that in 2006, the Viviers would then be allowed to apply for permanent residents status, but as has been the norm since their arrival in 1999, that process has also dragged, taking two years, until finally getting resolved late last month.

"The formality of having just the last little bit of paperwork done now is amazing," said John. "It's like we belong now, paperwork-wise.

"We've always belonged here, but it just feels now that we're truly Rupertites."

Their only regret is that one particular member of the community who rallied behind their cause right from 1999 is no longer around to see that the Viviers are here to stay.

"The only thing I regret is that Joan Hicks died just before we got (this) letter," said Maggie. "If it wasn't for her, I don't think we would have made it, financially, everything. She got behind us, and worked the government, the city council, she worked everything to help us."

All that remains now is for the Viviers to undergo medical tests, a final criminal check on each member of the family, and passport procedures. The next step, Canadian citizenship, seems nothing more than a formality now.

As John has already said, "it is done."

"I would never leave Rupert," he said. "I would not want to disappoint the town. They went to bat for us, and at least the town can say they had a part in us staying, and we're giving it back ... for me, it's important that we do our part."

Rupert family wins right to live in Canada permanently
David Carrigg
The Province
Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A South African family suffering a rare condition made worse by sunlight has won the right to stay in Canada.

John Viviers, 39, said yesterday that Citizenship and Immigration Canada has granted the family permanent residence on compassionate grounds.

"We had to go through the immigration doctors to prove that we did have [porphyria]," Viviers said. "They did find we were not lying, that it was like we said."

Viviers, his wife Maggie and their two children Domonic, 22, and Heloise, 19, came to Rupert in 1999 on a holiday to escape the blazing South African sun.

John, Domonic and Heloise all suffer from porphyria, a skin and nervous system disorder. The condition includes a raft of painful symptoms that are made worse by sunlight.
"We used to black out a lot and had severe abdominal pains and we got blisters really quick," Viviers said.

The family chose Prince Rupert after learning of a Canadian Porphyria Foundation survey that found its weather was the most suitable for sufferers.

Once they arrived in Prince Rupert, their health improved and they fit into the community. Viviers then began the long process of seeking permanent residency status on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.

"We had our return tickets," he said. "We didn't land here and claim this thing. We came for a holiday. We were planning on going home but the [immigration] officer advised us we could stay inside the country while our immigration was being processed."

But the case was delayed due to a hold on immigration applications after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., forcing Viviers and his family to rely on the financial and emotional support of their new community.

Until they were granted a temporary resident permit in April 2004, the Viviers' could not work and the couple's children couldn't go to school. Viviers and the two children now work at The Source in Prince Rupert.

"Our health is much better," said Viviers, whose family now considers Prince Rupert home.

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