Cancer, denied refugee claim sour Mexican woman’s Canadian dream
Couple from Mexico coping with misdiagnosis and cuts to refugee health care
CBC News Posted: Mar 19, 2013 1:51 PM MT Last Updated: Mar 19, 2013 9:06 PM MT
A Mexican couple’s dream of starting over in Canada is unravelling amid a misdiagnosed cancer, a lawsuit and rejected refugee claims from Ottawa.
Maria Morales and Ivan Nava came from Tierra Colorada in Guerrero state in southwestern Mexico, a region controlled by drug cartels and corrupt police.
‘I couldn’t believe it. When they gave us the news, I felt so sad.’
— Maria Morales
Morales’s former partner, an architect and father to her now grown son, was killed for reasons that were never clear to her, she says.
“They had tied him to a chair,” she said. “They beat him, I never wanted to know more. It hurt me too much.”
A recent Amnesty International report said there are up to 15,000 gang-related murders in Mexico annually. Morales met Ivan a year later, and as thugs continued to harass and threaten them, the couple say they realized it was time to get out.
In 2009 they fled to Canada for safety and a fresh start.
“Our reason for being here is that there were people that scared me,” Morales said. “They asked for money and because they knew Ivan was my boyfriend, they threatened me … of getting rid of him or me.”
Diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer
They applied for Canadian refugee status and within months of settling in Okotoks, south of Calgary, both had jobs.
Morales felt relieved when, after a biopsy, she was diagnosed with fibroids, which are non-cancerous tumours, and began undergoing standard treatment.
But six months later, during a hysterectomy, doctors discovered Morales not only had cancer but that it had spread well beyond her uterus. She was given a grim diagnosis: Stage 4 cancer, much of it inoperable.
Couple still pays taxes
But Morales and Nava still pay taxes, said their lawyer Raj Sharma.
“Jason Kenney starts with the wrong premise. He starts with the premise that refugee claims in Canada are bogus,” Sharma said.
‘You see with this disease, you can never know when I will die.’
— Maria Morales
“I think we have a moral obligation to provide health care to those individuals that require it and I think we have a moral obligation to extend health care and health-care coverage to those individuals by virtue of paying taxes into the system,” he said.
Morales is now too sick to work. Nava struggles to take care of her between shifts as a drywaller.
Maria Morales is receiving life prolonging chemotherapy treatments from Alberta Health Services — but only because she was misdiagnosed, said lawyer Jeff Poole.
“The doctors are being asked by AHS to provide Maria with care and not be paid. And so it is an ongoing question for Maria and her husband Ivan as to whether or not they will get a huge bill at some later date,” Poole said.
Morales says it’s an ironic turn of events — she would not be getting any treatment at all if not for an alleged medical mistake.
“They’re giving me the treatment. At least with the treatment they’re helping me, but only because what I believe is negligence happened at the hospital,” she said.
Morales is suing Alberta Health Services, Calgary Laboratory Services and the pathologist for missing her cancer when it was in its early stages.
Maria Morales, a refugee claimant from Mexico, is battling cancer and suing Alberta Health Services over her misdiagnosis. (CBC)
Because the case is before the courts AHS declined requests for an interview, except to confirm it will continue to provide chemotherapy for Morales.
In its statement of defence filed last month, AHS denied any wrongdoing in Morales’s case.
She and Nava have applied for permanent residency in Canada, this time based on humanitarian grounds because of her aggressive cancer.
Meantime, Morales says, she is trying to make peace with “the circle of life, with her God,” and is holding out hope her grown son will be granted a visa to visit her in Canada before she dies.
“You see with this disease, you can never know when I will die,” she said. “That is what scares me a lot, not being able to see my son again.”