Grandfather regroups after deportation scare

Richard Jerman poses with family on Penelakut Island where he has lived for the past 37 years, raising four children and 14 grandchildren. - courtesy family
Richard Jerman poses with family on Penelakut Island where he has lived for the past 37 years, raising four children and 14 grandchildren.
— image credit: courtesy family

Richard Jerman got the shock of his life Wednesday when Canadian border guards arrived at his place on Penelakut Island to arrest him as an illegal immigrant.

“I was in shock alright,” said the 37-year resident of the tiny First Nations reserve off of Chemainus.

“They figured I wasn’t supposed to be here (in Canada), and had to go with them.”

Jerman was allowed to change from his muddy work duds, before being hauled to holding cells in Victoria Wednesday, then to a Vancouver Airport lockup Thursday. He was released on a $500 bond Friday.

“You can’t pack anything; you go as you are,” he said, applauding fast legal action mounted by his family, the Penelakut band, and lawyer Peter Golden for saving him from a quick deportation.

Jerman’s surprise stemmed from his false belief he had permanent residency after settling so long ago on Penelakut with wife, Maria George.

The community pillar received no government notice, nor letters about his non-residency status before Wednesday’s action by Canadian Border Services agents.

“I also have all the different documents: a (B.C.) Care Card, and a SIN number,” taxpayer Jerman, 60, told the News Leader Pictorial Thursday back at his home on Penelakut.

He had also crossed the border various times over the years, with no reason to question his residency status, he explained.

Muddying matters is Jerman’s lack of Canadian Native status. His American Aboriginal status is also unknown, he explained.

“My childhood was not happy,” said Jerman, who believed his dad was Native.

His heritage is hazy as Jerman was adopted by folks who hid his background from him.

He later learned of the Native roots he’s trying to track stateside.

On Pelelakut, Jerman and Maria have four kids, and 14 grandchildren, with another on the way.

His family and band rallied, securing the services of Golden, a Victoria immigration lawyer.

He’s applying to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada so Jerman can stay in Canada while his application for permanent residency status is heard by the feds.

“He acted as if he was someone living here legitimately,” Golden said.

According to Golden, his client would likely have received overstay or deportation notice, plus advice under Canada’s former immigration rules. But those rules have become far more strict in recent years, catching Jerman in their wake.

“People need some compassion as to why people don’t have (residency) status. This doesn’t make a lot of sense compared to the mischief he’s supposed to have created,” Golden said. “There are better ways to spend taxpayers’ money.”

Especially since Jerman is a stand-up community member, with a large family, who has lived on Penelakut for so long.

Elizabeth May, the Green party’s Saanich-Gulf Islands MP also acted quickly.

She called the minister of citizenship and immigration to help prevent Jerman from being kicked out of Canada within 24 hours — which could have happened under those new deportation rules.

“This was an extreme reaction,” said May, who has a law degree. “This came like a bolt out of the blue.”

Jerman, a farmhand and U.S. Army veteran, said he was treated politely by federal agents. The grub was another matter.

“The food wasn’t that great in Victoria; it’s city jail food.”

He credited his daughters and the Penelakut band for finding Golden to help pave the road to residency.

“If not for them, I’d probably be across the border by now.”

While his case grinds along, Jerman remained worried — and legally unable to work.

“My gut is physically jittery; I’ve felt that since last Wednesday. I’ve got a long road ahead of me, but this is my home.”

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