83-year-old Surjit Bhandal allowed to stay in Canada after five-year fight

Saanich resident Surjit Bhandal (83) has finally got the news that she had been waiting to hear for the last five years. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will allow her to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. This has ended five years of rejection.

“She feels, very, very good, finally,” said nephew Jasminder Bhandal (45). “She was very upset before, so much tension was a burden on her health.” The aunt he calls “mom” is frail, has no family in India and has been fighting to stay since she first visited Langford in 2008.

Esquimalt Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison, whose office has championed her cause and put close to 100 hours into the case, said only a few routine procedures remain before Surjit Bhandal receives permanent resident status.

Garrison said the decision sets a precedent in keeping with Canadian values: When federal adjudicators deal with other cases involving family members who don’t meet the “strict legal definition” of a family, those individuals can still qualify to stay.

Canadian law does not consider aunts close enough family members for reunification, but in this case, Surjit raised the two boys from birth because their mother was disabled. Although she’s their mother’s sister-in-law, they call Surjit mother. But because she was not their birth mother, the nephews could not sponsor her for permanent residence status.

“We don’t actually need a change to the law or the regulations,” said Garrison, an NDP MP. “We just need an understanding of diverse families and this is a precedent. … My only regret is that it took the Conservatives so long to come to the right conclusion.”

Jasminder said he is thankful not only for Garrison’s help, but for the churches and the rest of the community that supported the family, ultimately sending 5,000 letters and emails to Ottawa. He estimated his legal bills in the case at $40,000.