Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Podunk Below the Masthead, Monday, December 21, 2009

The Viviers move another step along the bureaucratic path of citizenship, an inspection for a damaged grain ship and BC Ferries exercises more caution in times of stormy weather, some of the items of note for Monday's news cycle.

Daily News, Front page, headline story
PERMANENT RESIDENTS AT LAST AFTER ELEVEN YEARS OF TRYING-- The quest for permanent status of the Viviers continued this month as the family was off to Prince George to finish off the paper work on their request for permanent resident status in Canada. The story of the Viviers which is proving to be a highlight for many news services across Canada this Christmas season was recounted in full by the Monday edition of the Daily News.

More details on the minor damages suffered by the Sophia Z during last weeks windstorm are provided in Monday's paper, with the vessel now docked at Northland Cruise Terminal, Transport Canada's Ship Safety department is examining the state of the damage and advising as to what repairs, if any, will be required to re-certify the ship for transit in Canadian waters.

The Sports section features a review of Saturday night's Rampage loss to Smithers as well as some details on the support offered by Port Edward to the BC Northern Winter Games.

(Archive for Daily News Articles for December 21, 2009 )

The Northern View
No new items posted to the Northern View website on Monday

CFTK TV 7 News
Teenager found dead in Greenville -- Sad confirmation of the death of a sixteen year old male in the Greenville area early Monday morning, local RCMP from the New Aiyansh detachment found the boy on the side of the road in -10 conditions, foul play is not suspected (see article here)

Queen Charlotte Islands Observer
Ferries becoming much more cautious following November nightmare -- Details of the latest cancelled sailing for BC Ferries, which saw the Northern Adventure held back from sailing on December 20th, apparently part of a greater awareness and caution over weather conditions (see article here)

CBC News Northern British Columbia, Daybreak North
Daybreak is on Christmas break, a notice on their website advises that no new items are to be posted to their Daybreak site until January 4, 2010

Daily News, front page, headline story
Permanent residents at last after eleven years of trying
by Monica Lamb-Yorski
The Daily News
Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas has come early for the sun shy Viviers family of
Prince Rupert.

Last week John, Maggie and their children Domonic, 22, and Heloise, 21, took the train to Prince George from Prince Rupert. In Prince George on December 15 each family member received permanent resident status.

“It felt like a big relief,” Maggie said of the permanent resident status, adding that it has been an 11-year battle for her family. In 1998 Maggie put out a call to the world, looking for a place where the sun wasn’t prevalent. “Canada answered and we came to the world’s fourth-rainiest city hoping to have a better life.”

John feels a bit weird after all this time and said Sunday he doesn’t think it’s really sunk in yet.
“We have been stuck so long in this thing that it kind of felt like it wasn’t ever going to happen,” he explained, adding that the family members passed their probation period in 2006, and are not quite sure why it took another three years to obtain permanent residency status.

“When you are in this situation there is not a lot that you can do. After eleven years, basically a decade, we have been in a country where we were really only visitors,” he added.

John, Domonic and Heloise all have porphyria - a rare disease where a person suffers groups of disorders caused by abnormalities in the chemical steps that lead to heme production. For John the severity of the symptoms included times where he would black out, stomach cramps and lesions to the skin.

“They only have one layer of skin. We have three,” explained Maggie. “I could not grab his hand too hard without having skin come off into mine at times.”

Heloise also has haemochromatosis and some other mutations - making her case severe. Normally symptoms begin to emerge when a person goes through puberty, but hers were there when she was born.

People with the disorder are basically allergic to the sun, so when the family was living in South Africa, they adopted a nocturnal lifestyle and kept themselves inside during the day. A magazine writer in South Africa described their skin as being “plastic-like”.

“When Heloise was little she wanted to go outside really badly one time because she didn’t understand the rules about porphyria,” recalled Maggie. “I opened the door, she took two steps outside, and came running back in, pointing to the sky saying, “sun ouch, sun ouch.”

At the time Heloise was learning to walk she liked to hide in the house under tables or a bed. To locate her, Maggie often followed a path of bloody foot prints left from her daughter’s tiny feet.
In the summer of 2004, the Viviers won the right to remain in Canada when their case was heard in the Supreme Court of Canada.

“Judge O’Keefe had ruled in 2003 there was enough evidence that we would suffer hardship if we went back to South Africa,” explained Maggie.

Once the Supreme Court ruled in their favour, they were allowed to look for work and the children were permitted to attend school.

Up until that time, they had been studying at home. John finds it “ironic” that Heloise is now in her second year of post secondary studies at Northwest Community College, heading toward studying law, in particular youth criminal justice.

Back in 2004, the Viviers were told it would take two years before they could receive permanent resident status, formerly known as landed immigrant status, but were also made aware that they were on probation.

“We were told if we did anything wrong we’d be out, so we were scared. It is like having an axe over your head. Our kids are kids and we always worried about whether something would happen with them,” John said.

It is hard for the family to express the gratitude they feel toward a community that was extremely generous. They didn’t make a lot of friends, but felt there was a constant stream of people helping them out.

Motioning her arms around the kitchen and adjacent living room, Maggie indicated that 90 percent of the things in the family home were donated.

At one point they had five couches and lost count of how many coffee tables were in the house. “People would come with bags and bags of clothes, “observed Maggie.

“Prince Rupert basically helped us grow up,” added John.

There were even Nisga’a and Tsimshian people willing to adopt the family when it was facing a deportation order, Maggie noted. “They were ready to move us to Metlakatla just so the government couldn’t get its hands on us.”

The Viviers are sad that Joan Hicks, who they called “grandma”, passed away before the family found out they could stay in Canada. “She helped us out – there were so many good people along the way,” said John.

Once when the family travelled to Vancouver a taxi driver recognized them and wouldn’t charge them and when the stayed at the YMCA, staff there didn’t want to charge them either.

And despite the many hurdles the family experienced in their dealings with immigration, Maggie and John said there were also people in the system who were helpful.

An immigration officer in Prince George gave the family the humanitarian compassion papers they needed to proceed with their case.

“He saw there was a problem, that it wasn’t something that we had made up. I think he helped us out of the goodness of his heart,” reflected Maggie.

Now that they have landed where they want to be permanently, Maggie feels confident in her conviction that when it comes to medical cases, immigration needs a panel comprised of medical specialists.

“I think if you have a magnitude of a case like this where immigration is presented with reports, at least they need people who specialize in the medical field, especially in the case of genetics. We had all the evidence and immigration didn’t know what they were looking at. If you say my daughter has porphyria, R59W, hereditary haemochromatosis, H63D and an HFE mutation, people look at you questioningly.”

Maggie became a board member of the Canadian Porphyria Advisory Committee after arriving in Canada and has been contacted by people wondering if they have the disease.

In the family scrapbook there’s a copy of an article about a family in Vancouver that contacted the Viviers because their two sons have porphyria.

“The mother was made fun of because she overdressed her children to protect them from the sun,” Maggie said.

For the Viviers the media has been a friend all along. It was a neighbour in Prince Rupert that first recognized Heloise from a BBC documentary and told the family if they didn’t go to the media, she was going to because the family needed help.

“We get Christmas cards from some of the journalists that interviewed us from CBC and CTV and the Daily News has basically walked with us throughout,” said Maggie as she sifted through the scrapbook, adding that she has two apple boxes of documents from the case in the garage.

Normally it takes three years to successfully receive Canadian citizenship, something the family is hoping to achieve next, yet because they have been given a year off that term to compensate for the length of the stage so far, they could be citizens by 2011.

John is now working at Hecate Strait Employment Development Society as a computer technician and instructor and recently completed the first course at Northwest Community College toward a diploma to teach adults computers.

His basement office at home is darkened with curtains and there are no lights. “My office at Hecate Strait is identical,” he said smiling.

Referring back to the scrapbook, filled with newspaper and magazine clippings, and clasping a stack of passport papers they’ve accumulated over the years, Maggie confessed that her hope is now to write a book.

“I’m not a writer,” she said, “but it’s something I want to do.”

Upon hearing that writing’s all about putting one word in front of the other, much like the way someone learns how to run by putting one foot in front of the other, a huge grin illuminates her face.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said John as he leaned against the kitchen counter.

“We’re here and it’s done. Would I have wanted things to work differently? I don’t know. We met a lot of amazing people along the way and in some ways it had a positive effect. It’s no use going what if. There’s not a lot you can do with “what if”. It sounds kind of corny, but even the immigration officers that turned us down, I’m thankful for.”

The family could have waited until March for an immigration officer to come to Prince Rupert to grant them the permanent residency, instead of traveling to Prince George, but decided they didn’t want to wait.

“This is the Christmas present we wanted, to be able to start 2010 as permanent residents,” John said.

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