2 min

Fighting to be together

Canada won't let lover stay

'YOUR KIND.' Jim Lister and Robert Haggerty say they get fingers wagged in their faces at the border. Credit: Xtra files

Jim Lister and Robert Haggerty love each other, but can’t be together because of the imaginary line drawn at the Canadian border.

The two say they’ve been devoted to each other for seven years, and have been fighting Immigration Canada be together for nearly the same length of time. And it’s taken its toll.

“I went into a severe depression, which is when my HIV went full blown AIDS in September of 1996,” says Haggerty, who works in real estate and lives in Chicago. “I went down to 88 lbs [at five-foot, three-inches] and was nearly dead. Jim had been totally dry until this all happened and then in 1996 he fell off the wagon. He went back on the wagon again, thankfully.”

Says Lister: “It is almost impossible to explain the emotional toll this has taken. We have had a lot of time apart, a lot of money has been spent on commuting and fighting this.”

Lister, the manager of Church Street’s Black Eagle bar, says the last year has been the worst.

“When a lot of people get to an emotional crux in their lives they turn to their spouses for support. We can’t do that because we’re not even in the same country.”

They met in Montreal where both were vacationing.

“We met at 3:30 in the afternoon, by dinner we were finishing each other’s sentences. And we thought we were having an afternoon trick,” says Haggerty.

“We expected to have an afternoon of frolic, but we realized that we had a problem and within a couple of hours it was a lot more than that. It was like a ton of bricks for both of us!”

Haggerty says that the duo is constantly hassled by Canadian and US Customs officials.

“Every time we crossed the border, we were attacked. I had one woman literally jab her finger in my face and say, ‘We don’t want your kind in Canada.’ When we were crossing into the US they would ask for Jim’s lease, three or four weeks worth of pay stubs, we were always asked for our commitment ceremony certificate [from Vermont] – which no one carries!”

Same-sex spouses can be allowed into Canada under “compassionate” grounds, but those with HIV are routinely denied as a possible burden on the health care system.

Lawyer Michael Battista says he had to fight to even be allowed to appeal Haggerty’s exclusion from living in Canada.

He appealed the refusal to the Immigration And Refugee Board (Appeal Division). But the feds fought it, saying the tribunal can only arguments from opposite-sex married couples.

An adjudicator found that rule unconstitutional, and the appeal will be heard Dec 17. Lister and Haggerty will be the first same-sex couple in Canadian history to appear there.

Battista also argues that since a new law is on the way, same-sex couples should be given a break. A new immigration bill goes to Senate in the fall and would allow the same-sex partners of Canadians to immigrate regardless of their health status.

Government lawyer John Buchanan – who’s argued the immigration side – won’t comment. Giovanna Gatti, media spokesperson for Citizenship And Immigration Canada, says that she can’t comment because information about the case is not public and that immigration officers must follow current legislation and “can’t predict what will become legislation and when something will become legislation.”