While I was in law school I began working at a Canadian immigration law firm. My boss at the time was a highly regarded immigration lawyer and he assigned me cases that involved people who wanted to immigrate to Canada but had a previous criminal conviction, outside of Canada. I was nervous about taking on the mandate because I did not really have any criminal law experience. I took two criminal law classes in school and loved watching crime dramas on TV but had now idea how any of this would play out in the real world. Naively, I never thought that someone with a criminal record would try to immigrate to Canada and I also didn’t think that Canada would have a legal procedure that would allow for it.
The whole picture of what I was doing and why became clear to me when I started working with my first client. The case was a Canadian citizen sponsoring his American wife, who had been convicted of a DUI – Drinking & Driving seven years ago. I was responsible for assembling her Criminal Rehabilitation Application so that her husband could sponsor her. At the time she was living in the United States and she could not see her husband or cross the Canadian border as a result of her conviction. That was the moment it all made sense to me. Most of the criminal offences that came readily to mind were the more serious ones, certainly not a DUI. I could not believe that something that seemed so minor, like a DUI would stop her from travelling to Canada to see her husband.
After few months of working at the firm, a handwritten letter from an 80-year-old man in New Jersey was delivered to me. Reviewing the contents carefully, I discovered he had been convicted of Fraud in the amount of 10 million dollars, more than 20 ago. Though he held a criminal record, he wrote on how how his dream, before he left this world, was to take his youngest grandson on a fishing trip in Canada so that the boy could witness the beauty of the Niagara Falls. The letter continued explaining the circumstances of his offense, evoking deep feelings of compassion towards this man within me. In his past, the old man ran a family business in order to support his brothers and their children. Since it was not doing well, he had falsified orders and submitted these to the bank to receive a larger line of credit. Unable to live with the guilt of his offense, he ended up turning himself in and being labeled by his crimes. He pleaded for my aid so that he could make just one trip to Canada, with his grandson. It was at that moment I realized that there were probably a multitude of individuals who were upstanding people, and no danger to Canadian society, who had their past preventing them from travelling to this great country.
In the end, the man’s application was approved and ended up being one I would never forget. A new department in the firm I was working at as a law student and young lawyer processed his case. Individuals who were simply visiting or immigrating to Canada after criminal convictions were assigned to it, and we helped them out. This ended up becoming the area of law that I would find my specialty in and it formed the basis for my own practice, as well as the subject of many webinars, seminars, and my very own book.
Though I have practiced in this field for years now, there are still new situations I face everyday. Being able to gain new experiences and grow as a person, I hope to continue my career as an immigration lawyer throughout the years to come.
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