‘I have no idea what I’m going to do’: man deported to Netherlands after 60 years in Canada

Len Van Heest tears up as he speaks at Vancouver International Airport about his deportation. Now 59, Van Heest, who has a string of criminal convictions that he says were due to his bipolar disorder, was ordered deported to the Netherlands after living much of his life in Canada. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC News)

WVN – A 59-year-old B.C. man who has has lived in Canada since he was a baby has been deported to the Netherlands because of his criminal offences that he says were due to his mental illness.


“This is the only home I’ve ever known,” Len Van Heest said in a tearful interview Monday at Vancouver International Airport. “And they’re kicking me out now.

“They’re sending me to a foreign country, they’re taking my mom away from me, all my friends. I’m devastated.”

Van Heest moved to Canada with his parents when he was eight months old and the country is the only home he has ever known. His mother has said not getting him Canadian citizenship was an oversight.

Van Heest was first ordered deported in January 2008 after he was found inadmissible to stay in Canada because of a 2001 conviction for assault with a weapon.

His is one of several cases in which immigrants face removal after the previous Conservative government toughened laws regarding the deportation of non-citizen criminals, his lawyer Peter Golden said in an earlier interview with CBC.

Previously, the deportation took effect if a person was sentenced to more than two years. The Conservatives reduced that threshold to six months and removed the right to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division.

According to court documents, he was convicted of more than 40 criminal charges between 1976 and 2013. He was denied permanent Canadian residency because of his criminal record.

Van Heest said his crimes were the result of bipolar disorder, which he developed as a teenager. He served nine months for assault, but said he’s in control of his mental illness now and doesn’t drink or do drugs.

Motion denied

After years of delays, Van Heest’s latest motion to stay in Vancouver was denied last Thursday. He has applied for permanent residence status based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Len Van Heest and friend

Van Heest says goodbye to longtime friend, Karen Holst-Larsen at Vancouver International Airport. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC News)

In court documents, Van Heest has said that he would not be capable of obtaining health care, housing, income or a social network in the Netherlands.

Van Heest leaves behind in Canada his mother, Trixie, 81, whom he lived with, as well as his brother, and his nieces and nephews. “We play scrabble. She does my laundry. I help her cut the grass and stuff. We’re just the best of friends. It’s devastating my mom, it’s devastating me, it’s devastating my whole family.” Green party leader, Elizabeth May has appealed to the Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to stop the deportation. “I’m very concerned because once a person is deported, it becomes extremely difficult for them to ever come back into Canada,” May said in an interview.

Len Van Heest deportation

Len Van Leest says Canada is “the only home I’ve ever known. And they’re kicking me out now,”

“His only family is in Canada. He has no connections, that we know of, in the Netherlands. He doesn’t speak the language. I can’t even begin to imagine how he’s going to manage. It’s just heartbreaking.”

Like a ‘foreign country’

Van Heest’s lawyer, Robin Bajer, says he is appealing to have Van Heest granted permanent residence status on compassionate grounds. But that decision could take up to 36 months. In the meantime, Van Heest will be waiting in limbo in the Netherlands. He said he doesn’t know his relatives there very well. “I have no plans once I arrive,” he said. “My cousin is going to meet me there . . . or my auntie, or whoever she is, and I’ll just take it from there. “It’s like a foreign country, I have no idea what I’m going to do.” Just before 3 p.m., Canadian border officials escorted Van Heest onto a plane. Before boarding, he thanked friends and family. “I always cheer for Canada, you know, and all the Canadians I root for. But they’ve taken it all away from me now.”

Source – CBC


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