Toronto
4 min

Forget the brain drain

It's all about the gay gain

HERE & NOW. American Caryn Katz and Canadian Margaret Pas gave up on the US and came to Toronto where Pas could sponsor Katz as her spouse. Credit: Daniel Ehrenworth

With bids to Ban same-sex marriage popping up all over the US, many Americans are feeling less than comfortable in their own country. It’s no wonder that so many queer cross-border couples are choosing to make Canada their joint home.



“We would stay in Minnesota if we could,” says American John Staba, though he admits he’s “not thrilled with the political situation in the US.”



He and his partner Jay Mangles, a Venezuelan citizen, explored their options in the US but quickly realized they didn’t have many. Unlike Canada, US immigration policy doesn’t accommodate same-sex partners of US citizens. Mangles could have remained in the country on a student visa, but he would have never been able to work.



“For us to stay together, Canada is the best option,” says Staba.



The couple met six years ago in a lineup at Hamline University in Minnesota. Staba is a special education teacher; Mangles has multiple university degrees and hopes to do grassroots human rights work. The couple applied to immigrate to Canada under the skilled worker class. The entire process took approximately two and a half-years.



Mangles says he’s been practising the Canadian national anthem and is very excited and hopeful for the future. “I have great expectations with Canadian people and multiculturalism,” says Mangles. “People are most important to me. We want to move forward.”



Together for 10 years, American Caryn Katz immigrated to Canada after being sponsored by her Canadian partner, Margaret Pas. Citizenship And Immigration Canada (CIC) prioritizes applications made under the family class category; the process took approximately a year to complete.



“There are no chances for same-sex couples to emigrate to the US and I do not see it happening anytime soon, or even in my lifetime,” says Katz.



Katz and Pas, both librarians, met in the workplace in Brooklyn, New York. Pas applied for the US green card lottery every year she lived in the US. (Although not available to Canadians, she was able to enter because she holds dual citizenship with Holland.)



As time went on and Pas failed to be selected, the couple decided they had to make a decision. “Rather than waiting until we were 60 or 65, [we decided] why not do it now?”



Leaving her job of 24 years, Katz moved to Toronto with Pas in October 2003. They were married the following month and Katz’s landed immigrant papers were ready in January 2004.



Katz plans to retain her US citizenship and to continue to vote in American elections, but she looks forward to the benefits she’ll enjoy as a Canadian. “I am looking forward to becoming a Canadian citizen in three years and travelling on a Canadian passport. It’s much safer.”



American David Kloss has also crossed the border to be with his Canadian partner, Remi Collette. The couple met in Chicago at a leather competition in 2001 and continued their relationship by commuting between San Francisco and Toronto.



But the couple ran into problems starting in May 2002. “We made a mistake and misplaced my return ticket,” says Collette. “So we bought a return ticket originating from San Francisco. It was cheaper and we figured I could use the other ticket later. But it didn’t quite work out.”



Collette was stopped at the border where the American Immigration Naturalization Service (INS) held him for two and a half hours. “[Then] they took me to another room and interrogated me for about 45 minutes, standing over me and yelling in my face as if I was deaf.”



Collette says that when he told the INS officers that he was travelling to visit his boyfriend in San Francisco, they stepped up the interrogation.



“I had to prove I had maintained my Canadian residency, hydro, phone, etc, that I was officially, legally a Canadian resident. They allowed me to go to States for two weeks only and I had to show them my return ticket stub when I came through.”



Frustrated, the couple tried to find a way for Collette to stay in the US, but there were very few categories under which he could apply for American residency. In order to be with his partner, Kloss sold his home, put everything into storage and moved to Toronto.



Collette and Kloss believe it would have been better for both of them to stay in the US. Collette suffers with arthritis and cold weather intensifies the pain. Kloss is HIV-positive and will continue to travel to the US for specialized medical attention, including recently diagnosed glaucoma in his right eye. “In Canada to see a glaucoma specialist would take anywhere from six to eight months.”



Even though they are now officially living in Canada, Collette continues to be harassed by the INS when they travel to the US. “I have to go four to five hours before our flight because they have red-flagged me as under investigation. I have brought written proof [that we live in Canada], magazines, car registration, mortgage. They have photocopied everything and still have not lifted anything. The [INS] continues to harass me for nothing.”



Despite the shock of Canadian winters after sunny California, Kloss says the transition has been relatively easy. He continues to be politically active with the American same-sex immigration advocacy group Love Has No Borders and has also joined Egale Canada.



Kloss, who also plans to retain his American citizenship, hopes that someday the US government will pass the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA). “I love my country but I am perplexed by it,” he says. “I am disappointed in it, but any country can have its ups and downs.”



But the US’s loss is Canada’s gain. “We as Canadians are benefiting greatly,” says immigration lawyer Michael Battista of the new wave of gay and lesbian immigrants. He says he frequently receives calls from wealthy, educated gay Americans looking to make the move to join their homo-friendly neighbours to the north.



Batista says that while it is definitely easier for queers to immigrate to Canada versus the US, especially with the privilege of the family class category, he points out that there are still many problems with the system. For example, those who apply under the skilled worker class and are HIV-positive are immediately refused.



“We know that you can be healthy for decades, but at the moment, it is a blanket refusal by Canadian Immigration…. This inflexibility is very disappointing.”