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KNOX – Stateless girl caught in a world of political complications

Widlene Earle. (Image: Family photo)

VADEN EARLE has celebrity billionaire Richard Branson blogging in his corner.

He has a documentary film crew onside.

He has a book deal in the works, too.

And he has lots and lots of news footage of himself buttonholing Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, prodding them to act.

What he doesn’t have is his 14-year-old adoptive daughter Widlene, who despite 10 years of effort, remains stranded in the Dominican Republic.

“None of it matters, because she’s still stuck,” he says.

So, for that matter, are millions of other stateless people around the world. That’s the bigger story, says Earle.

He was in Victoria this week, where several local business types have become the latest recruits to his drive to bring Widlene to Canada and to find a place in the world for those who find themselves without a country.

The story goes back to 2009, when humanitarians Vaden and Christal Earle began the process of adopting Widlene, whose Haitian refugee mother — whom they had met as she scavenged a Dominican Republic garbage dump for food — had just died.

The adoption process was going fine — it was OK’d in both Canada and Haiti — until Haiti was devastated by an earthquake. The Haitian paperwork disappeared and the caseworker died. Eventually, the Canadian papers expired, too.

When the Dominican Republic changed its rules to deny citizenship to the Dominican-born children of Haitian refugees, Haiti countered by denying them citizenship, too. Widlene became stateless, a child not only without a country, but without a country to tell Canada that it’s OK to adopt her. “She’s stuck in No Man’s Land.”

Worse, she’s stuck and trying to avoid discovery as the Dominican Republic pushes refugees back to the chaos of Haiti — one of the most impoverished countries in the Western Hemisphere — where Earle said Widlene would fall victim to a system in which poor families sell children into what amounts to slavery.

The complicated situation got even more complicated when the Earles separated. They co-parent, spelling each other off while shuttling back and forth between Canada and an under-the-radar life in the Dominican Republic. They’ve also been trying to get permission to bring Widlene to Canada, to no avail.

Why has it been so hard? Certainly the optics are terrible for Trudeau and Hussen. Politically, it would make sense for them to make the problem go away — that is, to do what they have to do to accommodate Widlene’s entry. Instead, news cameras capture them speaking of the intricacies of international laws and agreements. Earle says Ottawa believes Widlene was actually born in Haiti.

Whatever. To observers it’s a simple question of Ottawa standing between a 14-year-old girl and the people who, paperwork or not, are her parents. It’s hard for other Canadians not to think of their own children who, like Widlene, enjoy dancing, playing soccer and listening to Justin Bieber, but who, unlike Widlene, have a secure future in a safe, affluent country that wants them.

“Widlene is living out statelessness every day,” Earle says. “She has access to no human rights.”

In Victoria, the tale drew the attention of Steve Arneson and Randy Molland, partners in the REInvestors, a company that uses real estate investment to, as they say, make a bigger impact on the world. A mutual contact linked them up with Earle, who came to Victoria to meet with them and others from their circle, mostly real estate investors with a philanthropic bent.

It was hard not to be moved, Molland said Wednesday. “Obviously his story is very powerful.”

It’s hardly unique, though. Billionaire Branson is among those campaigning loudly on behalf of the millions of people around the world who have, like Widlene, become stateless.

The thing is, we all tend to react more emotionally to one flesh-and-blood child than a million nameless, faceless ones. It wasn’t until the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015 that Canadians felt compelled to embrace Syrian refugees.

Earle, who a dozen years ago wrote a 2007 book called A Face Behind the Numbers, knows that. “Thirty thousand children die in Africa every week and it’s just a number.”

But one will break your heart.

© 2019 Copyright Times Colonist
About Mel Rothenburger (7051 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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