On Feb. 27, 2016 Bill MacArthur was wed for the first time at the age of 61. His bride was a Jamaican woman, 21 years his junior, named Cecile Pancheta Brown. He’d fallen in love with her two years previous and had talked to her seven times a day ever since.
“Why did you wait so long to get married?” an immigration officer asked Bill MacArthur recently.
“Because I didn’t find my soulmate,” MacArthur responded.
Not long after, MacArthur would learn the officer had denied his appeal asking for his wife to be granted permanent residency status.
Now home in Trenton and thousands of miles from his wife, MacArthur says he is living an immigration nightmare.
“I am not a criminal, but I have been fined in the money I’m going to have to spend to get through this battle,” he said. “We’ve been found guilty with no trial.”
MacArthur’s love story begins in February 2014. At 58, MacArthur had retired from Trenton Works. His years were willful, but he never got close to enough to anyone he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He was also obese for much of his life, but in 2014 he had lost more than 100 pounds and was feeling more confident than he had in years.
That year MacArthur decided to visit Jamaica at the recommendation of some friends and was walking on the beach when his knees started to hurt; e was waiting at the time for knee replacements. So, he stopped at a local bar. Chit-chat turned to conversation and he ended up asking out the female bartender he’d watched dismiss requests of other men during his visit.
One date led to more and when it was time to return to Canada they were both in tears.
They continued talking numerous times each day that whole year.
“Over that year she became my best friend. I talked to her more than any other person.”
The next year he went back to Jamaica and asked her to marry him.
That’s when things began to get rocky. He had thought he would invite her for a visit to see his hometown. He eventually learned would need to make a formal request for her to get a tourist visa. He was shocked when it was denied on the basis it was deemed she would be unlikely to return because she had no previous recorded travel.
They went ahead with their wedding plans and in February 2016, with friends and family from both sides present, they were married in Jamaica.
After that MacArthur returned home to Nova Scotia so he could have his knee surgeries and start the paperwork to have Cecile become a permanent resident. He told friends and neighbours about his wife and all were excited about meeting her.
Then he found out she was denied a permanent resident’s card on March 14, 2017.
The letter from the immigration officer said she was refused because of “serious discrepancies” between information she gave in her interview and that in the file. Among the concerns were the fact she didn’t know MacArthur’s only living brother. (MacArthur said they are estranged and haven’t talked in years.) She also had dates mixed up about their visits.
“After a careful and thorough consideration of the elements of this case, I have concluded there is insufficient evidence of any of the characteristics which could suggest a genuine marital relationship exists between you and your Sponsor.”
MacArthur said the things they chose to highlight she wouldn’t have known. Some she did know but forgot because she was nervous. She also limited education so she struggled to write the name of the town he lives in.
They filed an appeal and waited until June 22 of this year when they were granted a resolution conference. MacArthur said it was a frustrating experience where he felt his evidence was ignored and his love questioned.
“Maybe she doesn’t love you as much as you love her,” he says the women suggested.
The meeting ended with him cursing out the immigration officers. His appeal was denied.
“We’re both devastated at being treated so wrong and unjustly,” he said.
Now he’s forced to choose between starting the process all over again and spending thousands on application fees or to fight the case before a judge.
Both are costly and both take time.
While MacArthur is able to go to Jamaica to visit her, he said they want to live in Canada for the safer quality of life. Keeping up his home here while visiting Jamaica for months at a time is costly, so while he waits for this to be finished, his life savings are being tapped.
“I worked hard all my life, finally found my soul mate, only to be told I can’t have my wife live with me in Canada.”
He said he often wakes up in tears and goes to bed angry as he thinks about the situation.
“They’ve sentenced us to another two years apart,” he said.
Corroborating the case
Bill MacArthur’s niece Debbie Bowen lives in Amherst but is in regular contact with her uncle.
When he took a trip to Jamaica in 2014, she received a phone call saying he had met someone and was going to stay a little longer.
Throughout the year that followed she had the opportunity to talk with Cecile on the phone several times when MacArthur was visiting at their place. Other times they’ve video chatted.
It was no surprise to her the next year he went back and that he got engaged.
She was as perplexed as he was when MacArthur told her about how his future wife was denied permission to leave Jamaica to come visit him because she hadn’t travelled before.
At the wedding in 2016, Bowen and her brother surprised MacArthur by showing up at the wedding. She got to meet his wife and her family.
“I could tell it was a legitimate relationship before going but once you’re there – you can tell when you meet someone.”
Bowen was shocked at all the hoops MacArthur then had to go through to apply for permanent residency for his wife – 22 pages of paper work, a criminal record check and a physical by an embassy physician to ensure there was no health concern.
She was stunned when the application was denied and she saw how depressed her uncle became. She encouraged him to go back to Jamaica and stay with her while they waited for the appeal meeting.
On June 22 she was with MacArthur in Halifax when he went for the meeting with immigration officials. While she wasn’t in the room where he did the interview, she said she could hear some of it from outside where she was sitting. She felt like he wasn’t given a chance to provide the evidence he had and instead, was grilled him on why his wife had said certain things.
Bowen said from talking to Cecile in the past she knows she has a thick accent and sometimes they had trouble understanding each other. She believes that may have been a factor in the interview.
Since the denial she has been writing letters to politicians to try to find someone to help.
For her, there is no question, that their love is real. He has a copy of MacArthur’s will with Cecile added to it and has witnessed the time and money he has put toward ensuring she can come to Canada.
“Why would a man spend that kind of money on someone he just wanted to get a green card for?”