3 min

‘We just burst out crying’

Credit: Xtra Files

Stephen Brown and Claudio do Espirito Santo are making a paper trail of their life together.

They’re collecting bills and photographs, letters and cards from family and friends, all in an attempt to prove they’re a couple, and get do Espirito Santo into Canada.

“The paperwork is incredible,” says Brown, 32. “And there are a lot of things we don’t have.”

His 33-year-old lover, born in Brazil, must list every job he’s held and every place he’s lived since age 18 – a hard list to recall.

The couple met in August 1998, at a party and had been living together for almost a year in New York City, where Brown is pursuing his PhD in political science.

But the pair want to eventually move north.

Do Espirito Santo was in the US on a tourist visa, and he leaves the country to visit family – his or his partner’s.

And each time he returns, the US immigration official on shift at the border decides on the spot how much longer he can stay.

The two returned to the US from Montreal in November, after visiting Brown’s family.

“He got five days,” says Brown. “Within five days he had to pack up and leave.

“We walked out and we were speechless. We didn’t say anything until we got home and then we just burst out crying.”

The couple hasn’t seen each other since Dec 5.

Brown calls every morning. “It was really hard,” Brown says. “He wasn’t here for the holidays. He wasn’t able to go to my brother’s wedding.”

“The only thing that saved me from descending into the depths of misery was saying, ‘Okay, well, what can we do?'”

After calls to Canadian consulates all over New York state, Brown couldn’t figure out how exactly how same-sex partner sponsorship works. No one could tell him if he had to be in Canada when filing the application, or how long the whole process might take. Now he’s working with Vancouver lawyer Robert Hughes, who has dealt with more than 200 same-sex sponsorships.

“I’m very hopeful,” Brown says. “The fact is we are a real couple and we do have a lot of proof.”

Brown will live in Canada for the first time in 10 years soon, sponsoring do Espirito Santo under the “humanitarian and compassionate grounds” clause. First Montreal, then wherever a job takes him.

Even after filing the application, the two will have to wait months for an interview with Immigration Canada, hoping all their work won’t be in vain, thwarted by a homophobic official and stretching out the process into months of appeals.

Still, Brown says he’s glad he’s a Canadian. “It’s a very big burden of proof, and that in itself is discriminatory,” he says of the application process. “But if I were an American, I don’t know what we’d do.” The US has no provision for same-sex partner sponsorship.

The two will finally see each other again Feb 1, when do Espirito Santo goes to live in Montreal with Brown’s mom while they wait on the decision. “I’ll be there at the airport to meet him,” says Brown, who’s still in New York working on his thesis.

“This is an issue that doesn’t get a lot of play in the gay community,” he says. “It’s not one I’d ever thought I’d be involved in.”

“Once it’s you, you suddenly realize how important this is.”


More than a year ago, then-Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillard made a big noise and promised to change the immigration act to allow for same-sex couples to enter the country as “family.”

But under her watch, nothing happened.

Canada now has a new minister. Elinor Caplan was appointed minister of citizenship and immigration last August.

Caplan’s media advisor did not return Xtra’s call. And same-sex spouses must still beg to enter the country under “compassionate” grounds.

The minister was appointed just two months after her election to the House Of Commons – she represents the riding of Thornhill.

She was previously a Liberal MPP (with a three-year stint as health minister). Before that, she was a North York city councillor.

The minister can be reached c/o Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Jean Edmonds Tower South, 21st floor, 365 Laurier Ave W, Ottawa K1A 1L1.