Canadian couple has been caring for girl since shortly after mother’s death in 2009
Vaden Earle first met Mari-Thérèse Pierre, a Haitian refugee, in the Dominican Republic in 2005 when he was on a humanitarian mission with a youth group he founded in Canada.
The Hamilton man would see the woman with her newborn child, Widlene, scavenging for food around a giant dump site near Puerto Plata and would often chat with her.
One day in 2009, the mother and girl disappeared, and he learned that Pierre had died and the child was sent back to Haiti to live with a relative. Worried about the well-being of the girl, Earle and his wife set out to find her. They eventually tracked her down in Haiti and have been her primary care providers ever since.
Eight years after Earle and his wife initiated Widlene’s adoption — and after a series of mishaps — the now 12-year-old is stranded and stateless in the Dominican Republic, waiting to come to Canada with her adoptive parents. To do that, the couple is asking for co-operation from immigration officials.
“It has been a nightmare in a perfect storm. It’s just unbelievable,” said Earle, 42, who moved to the Caribbean country in 2009 to look after Widlene full-time, while his wife, Christl, travels monthly from Toronto to see her family.
Earle, who quit his position as CEO of the youth group Live Different and now runs a car rental business and café in Puerto Plata, said he and his wife were drawn to Widlene partly by their belief in empowering youth for social change.
“Widlene just finished Grade 6 (at a private school). She is an avid soccer player and loves watching hockey. She is a big Edmonton Oilers fan,” said Earle. “She wants to become a pediatrician and work in developing countries.”
It’s a future that would not have been imaginable when Earle first found Widlene in Gonaïves, in northern Haiti, where she was on the verge of being sold as a child domestic worker in 2009.
He and his wife, who have no children of their own, applied to Haitian authorities for Widlene’s guardianship in order to bring the girl home to formalize the adoption in Canada. They completed a government assessment in Ontario of their skills and talents as potential parents.
Then the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in January 2010, causing widespread devastation — and destroying all the documents necessary for Widlene’s adoption, including proof of her mother’s death and the signed consent of her biological father, whose whereabouts are still unknown.
The couple then attempted to carry out the adoption in Haiti, but in 2013, the Haitian government suddenly put a moratorium on international adoptions.
In 2015 the family encountered yet another hurdle when a new law was enacted that revoked Haitian citizenship for anyone born outside Haiti, even to Haitian parents.
Earle said Widlene subsequently had her Haitian passport and citizenship stripped, and became stateless in the Dominican Republic, because that country does not grant citizenship by birth on its soil.
“As a Haitian, she is living in a country where Haitians are not welcomed and are targets for exploitation, racism and deportation,” said Earle. “As a Dominican-born child, Haiti refuses to recognize her as a citizen. Today, we, as Canadian citizens, are effectively exiled from Canada by virtue of our decision to save the life of a child.”
Being stateless, Widlene does not have a valid travel document.
The family’s Toronto lawyer, Chantal Desloges, has asked immigration officials to issue a temporary resident permit to let Widlene into Canada so the couple can complete the adoption — and the immigration process — in this country.
Immigration officials have yet to decide on the matter. They say they’ve been responding to correspondence from Earle since September 2016.
“We understand the rules are there, but this is a humanitarian case. We need the exceptional discretion applied in this case,” said Desloges, adding that the permit, unlike a tourist visa, is designed for the entry of an otherwise inadmissible foreigner because of “compelling needs.”
By Nicholas Keung | August 21, 2017