York University Professor Forced to Return to Costa Rica for Having a Son Who Is Different

Leonora Chapman

Felipe MontoyaOn the occasion of World Down Syndrome Day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on March 21, 2013, saying that: “in working life, stereotypes against persons with Down syndrome often mean they are denied vocational training opportunities and their right to work. In the political and public sphere, persons with Down syndrome and other persons with intellectual disabilities are often deprived of their right to vote and fully participate in the democratic process.”

Down syndrome can give rise to very complicated situations for individuals and families. This is one of these cases.

A family from Costa Rica is leaving Toronto after three years in Canada because immigration officials say that their son with Down syndrome is a burden on taxpayers.

Although they are leaving the country, they are still fighting against what they call a medieval and barbaric law, because they believe they can help other families.

Felipe Montoya and Alejandra García-Prieto have been trying to obtain permanent residence in Canada since they moved to Toronto three years ago with their two adolescent children so that Montoya could continue teaching environmental studies at York University.

However, immigration officials have refused to approve their application because their 13 year-old son, Nico, has Down syndrome.

“Our fight is more of a matter of principle”, Montoya told CBC public radio.

Montoya recalled that when he first began working at York University, the person responsible for international hiring warned him that there could be problems with obtaining permanent residence due to Nico’s condition, but he thought that he must have heard wrong.

“He was singled out because of his genetic identity,” explained Montoya. “The only difference is he has a genetic condition that makes him different.”

García-Prieto commented that it is “really, really devastating” for her to experience a process which in her view is unfair.

People with Down syndrome are “victims of a stigma”, she told the CBC. “It’s just papers, they don’t know the person.”

The couple argue that this contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability.

The four members of the family will go back to Costa Rica in June, but Montoya plans to continue discussing the issue publicly.

This article originally appeared in Spanish on Radio Canada International. Translated by Martin Boyd.

A petition has been initiated in support of justice for the Montoya family, which can be signed on line by clicking here.

There is also a petition to repeal the legislation that discriminates against people with disabilities, which can be signed on line by clicking here.

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