Original Published on Jul 13, 2022 at 05:32
By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
In a little over two weeks, Lisa Southern is scheduled to leave her husband of 22 years, get on a plane and fly back to her homeland of Australia.
It’s not a pleasure trip, or for business. In fact, she didn’t even book the flight.
Southern has been issued a removal order by the Canadian Border Services Agency. It’s essentially punishment for being delinquent in renewing her residency visa on more than one occasion. She can return in a year.
“According to them, I’ve had too many chances, so they’re getting rid of me, basically,” she said in phone interview this week from Gander.
Southern acknowledges she did miss deadlines in renewing her visa in the past, but invariably had an excuse each time.
In 2002, her husband, Dennis Wicks, suffered a pair of heart attacks that left him unable to work.
“We were completely broke. We had a newborn daughter. So it was chaos,” said Southern, who says the family at times had to survive on $1,100 a month because she wasn’t able to work.
Some years later, Wicks fell ill and Southern brought him to the hospital. After three different glucometers gave erroneous readings, a fourth finally registered a blood sugar level of 44.
Many people pass out with a reading of 12. If it goes over 24, a person can go into a coma.
“I was a dead man walking,” Wicks said. “The doctor told me that.”
It was one of at least two occasions when Southern saved his life, he says.
“Otherwise, I would have gone on to bed.”
Wicks takes insulin every day, but still has blockages from his heart attacks that are inoperable. And as if that weren’t enough, he’s now battling Stage 4 prostate cancer and needs surgery for a major hernia.
Wicks has lived in Gander all his life.
He worked at various jobs before his heart woes grounded him, and also did volunteer work.
He and Southern met online, and Southern admits that when she first decided to come to Newfoundland and Labrador she was under the impression that marriage would automatically put her on a path to citizenship.
That policy ended in 1997.
Southern will be able to reapply for a visa in a year, but says that could be too late.
“Between now and a year’s time, I don’t know if Dennis can survive,” she said.
Both Wicks and their 20-year-old daughter, Erica, who lives with them, suffer from anxiety.
Speaking to The Telegram, Erica said she has had to work since she was 13 in order to have any pocket money. She wanted to move to St. John’s two years ago, but the pandemic put her plans on hold.
Now she won’t have her mother around to help her do it in September.
“I want my mom there to help me move into my first place on my own,” she said.
“And she wants to be here to help me make those adult decisions that you do when you go out on your own for the first time.”
Dennis has previously been hospitalized for anxiety.
“My anxiety, even without this s—, is through the roof at times,” Wicks said. “I get overloaded. I’ve had two nervous breakdowns and ended up in Grand Falls hospital in the psychiatric ward. I’ve been admitted twice.
“It’s crippling,” he said. “It can take you by surprise.”
Wicks says he doesn’t understand why the government would be so callous about their situation and send his wife back to Australia.
“Someone has to stop it or delay it. My God, you can’t do this to a man. I’m going to be left with absolutely no care.”
The couple said their daughter’s anxiety largely stems from a lifetime of struggling to make ends meet.
“We were poor, and she was bullied in school because we were poor,” Wicks said.
Southern said she realizes people will say she’s the author of her own misfortune, but her family comes first. And they’ve been through very difficult times.
“Yes, it is of my own making,” she said. “I take full responsibility for that. But nobody knows how we lived for the past 20 years. … It’s been murder.”
The couple briefly separated about five years ago because of the strain, but Southern moved back in to take care of Wicks and her daughter.
Southern says dealing with the Canadian Border Services Agency has always been an unpleasant experience. Even when she was facing the removal order, she could hear staff laughing in the back room while she was in their office in tears.
“(L)aughing when someone’s in the midst of despair is not cool,” she said.
One official even suggested she could sign a form stating she would be in danger if she returned to Australia. That would at least delay the removal.
“And I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry but I can’t do that. I can’t lie and say I’m in danger when I’m not.’”
The pair says no one has advocated on their behalf, including MPs.
The Canadian Border Services Agency was unable to offer comment before deadline.
This item reprinted with permission from The Telegram, St John’s, Newfoundland