Her devoted sisters denounce 'cruel' decision
By VICTOR MALAREK
Wednesday, April 2, 2003 - Page A1
Frail, widowed and with her mind slowly succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer's disease, Helen Ann Dougherty has only one wish. All the 75-year-old Holocaust survivor asks is to be allowed to live out her remaining years in peace with her two sisters in Canada.
She moved to Toronto to be close to her sisters two years ago from New York, where she lived without friends or relatives, barely able to cope on her own.
"The three . . . sisters wish to be reunited in Canada during the last years of their respective lives. One cannot underestimate the bond between these three Holocaust survivors," her lawyer, Michael Schelew, wrote in a letter to the office of Immigration Minister Denis Coderre.
It is a plea that has been rebuffed -- Mr. Coderre's bureaucrats have turned down Mrs. Dougherty's request and ordered her back to New York.
Despite her illness, and a family history that includes losing her parents and brother in the Holocaust, a letter from Immigration Canada says there are "insufficient humanitarian and compassionate grounds" to approve her application for permanent status.
Mrs. Dougherty, who lived in New York since 1948 before coming to Toronto, must now leave Canada or face deportation.
The decision has outraged her family, her lawyer and Jewish community leaders.
Anna Hefner, Mrs. Dougherty's older sister, said yesterday she was devastated when she got word of Immigration Canada's decision.
"There are no words for it. It was so upsetting. I was so very, very disappointed," Mrs. Hefner said. "We have been through so much in our younger years with the war and concentration camps and now in our older years, we are not allowed to be together. It's heartbreaking for us."
Mrs. Hefner said her ailing sister would not be a burden on Canadian taxpayers. "We support her. We give everything to her. We are paying for her apartment and a woman to stay with her and care for her 24 hours a day. To send her away would be so cruel."
Jerry Hefner, Mrs. Dougherty's nephew, said when he read the decision, "It was like somebody hit me on the side of the head with a hammer.
"My aunt is a widow. She is childless and her sisters want her here. They want to live out their final years together," Mr. Hefner said. "Instead, some callous, cold-hearted bureaucrat decides, without ever meeting her face-to-face, that this elderly woman, who is of no threat to anyone, should leave the country."
Mr. Hefner added: "She has money to take care of herself. She has a U.S. pension and some money in GICs [guaranteed income certificates]. She has health insurance and my mother is paying her rent."
Mr. Schelew said the decision has stunned him. "Removing a frail, elderly woman who cannot live alone and also needs her two Canadian sisters at this stage in her life is unthinkable, especially when the two Canadian sisters have more than enough financial resources to look after their beloved non-Canadian sister."
Mrs. Hefner said she, Helen and the third sister, Lola Mlava, were young when German soldiers took her parents and brother from their home in Poland. "We never saw them again."
The girls went into hiding, but Mrs. Hefner was found and sent to Auschwitz and later transferred to other camps. "My two sisters were smuggled into Vienna where they hid for a while and then they were given papers to show they weren't Jewish so they managed to survive. It was a terrible, terrible time," Mrs. Hefner said.
In 1948, Mrs. Dougherty immigrated to the United States and later married Robert, who died in 1984. Her sisters immigrated to Canada from Israel in the 1950s.
Mr. Schelew's letter pleaded with the Immigration Minister that returning "a 75-year-old widow who is unable to live alone; who no longer has any friends in the United States; and who has an emotional dependency on her Toronto family constitutes a disproportionate or undeserved hardship."
Mr. Coderre's office apparently doesn't see it that way. Huong Nguyen, the minister's enquiries assistant, wrote back stating that the department's decision will not be reversed. "She is without legal status in Canada. She was advised to leave voluntarily and have her departure confirmed," he added.
In its original decision denying Mrs. Dougherty's claim, the Immigration Department says it does not dispute that Mrs. Dougherty has "a close bond with her Canadian sisters" but it does not consider that she meets the definition of a "de facto family member."
The department also ruled that she "would not suffer disproportionate or undeserved hardship in her return to New York as she had financial means from her savings and social security pension."
Anita Bromberg, B'nai Brith Canada human rights co-ordinator, said the Immigration Department "needs to show compassion, and Mr. Coderre needs to take some responsibility in looking at a bureaucratic decision and exercise ministerial discretion by reversing it."
Jack Silverstone, executive vice-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said he was at a loss as to "why an aging woman who is a Holocaust survivor would be the subject of a removal order the Immigration Department."
Mr. Silverstone said he also wrote to Mr. Coderre urging him to allow Mrs. Dougherty to stay.
"We got back a letter saying that the circumstances had been fully considered by Immigration officials and that was it," he said.
A spokesman in Mr. Coderre's office said privacy issues precluded him from discussing the case.
Okay. Granted, that, as a Holocaust survivor, she undoubtedly had the most horrific youth imaginable; however, that fact in itself is not reason enough to allow her to stay in Canada.
What is reason enough is that this is a seventy-five year old woman who will be facing the onset of Alzheimer's without the support of family and friends should she be deported to New York. Yes, she does have the financial means to support herself, so, in theory, she could hire a home health care worker, but--with all due respect to home health care workers (they've earned every ounce of it!)--that's not the same as having your family there!
My grandfather, though not an Alzheimer's sufferer like Mrs Dougherty, has suffered three strokes (that they know about) and has problems with both memory and mobility. Thank God he not only has a nurse who comes to his home to check on him every once and a while, but my grandmother at home and my aunts, uncles and cousins nearby, too! My immediate family and my Aunt Karen's family are the only ones who don't live in the same city as he does, but we all try to visit as often as we can.
I firmly believe that family makes all the difference, emotionally. And when one is suffering physically and mentally, feeling loved makes it much easier to cope.
I hope Denis Coderre and company wise up.
On a different note, I'd like to tell the Quebeckers who booed the American national anthem before that Canadiens game a few weeks ago and those Quebeckers who gave those American peewee hockey players a hard time to smarten up!!!
Yes, I know you're all opposed to this war. I am, too. But come on! This war is not the fault of the American public! Think about it. Think real long and hard about it. You know I'm right. So you might as well quit before Canadians are despised south of the forty-ninth parallel.
What's that you say? You have freedom of expression? Well, that's right. And so do I. So I'll say this: I know Quebeckers have a long history of opposing war and the idea of conscripted service, but you know what? If Canada does join in the war and the government has to resort to conscription, I hope every one of you who booed that anthem or harassed those children is conscripted first!
Yes, I'm aware that's a horrible thing to wish on another person and yes, I do feel guilty for feeling that way, but I-am-sorry. What has been going on is abusive.
And all this chastising is coming from someone with the last name "St.Pierre." Go figure, huh?
I've got righteous indignation to spare! Anyone else want a taste of my verbal venom?