Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pinay caregiver dies in Canada, inspires law

Philippine Daily Inquirer/News/
By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

MANILA, Philippines—JUANA TEJADA, a Filipino whose plight as a caregiver inspired her supporters to name a proposed Canadian law after her, has died in Toronto. She was 40.

Tejada died of complications resulting from colon cancer. The disease, which struck her when she was on her third year in Canada, had provoked a move to have her deported.

She died on Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day.

The pending legislation would benefit foreign caregivers in Canada who may find themselves in a similar situation.

Citing humanitarian reasons and Tejada’s dedication to her work, thousands of Filipinos and non-Filipinos in Canada, the Philippines and other countries supported her plea to remain in Canada through an online petition addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Fil-Canadian couple Oswald and Mila Magno started the campaign online in 2008.

No ordinary caregiver
“Juana was not just a caregiver,” Tejada’s lawyer Rafael Fabregas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer shortly after she died. “She was also the champion of a worthy cause, the Juana Tejada Law.

“No other caregiver had gone as far as she had in lobbying the Canadian government to re-think the caregiver program. The Parliamentary Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is currently reviewing proposals to reform the program, which includes the Juana Tejada Law.”

If passed, Fabregas said, the measure would exempt live-in caregivers from having to pass a second medical examination before being granted permanent residence in Canada.

Tejada arrived in Canada on a cold wintry day in March 2003. She had a difficult start. She came from Hong Kong where she had worked as a nanny for several years and where there was a SARS outbreak at that time.

SARS—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome—is a disease whose flu-like symptoms can develop into a lethal pneumonia.

Fabregas said that upon her arrival in Canada, Tejada underwent a month-long self-imposed quarantine before getting a job.

Tejada’s Stage 4 cancer of the colon was diagnosed during her immigration examination in 2006. If not for her illness, she would have been assured of permanent residency which, according to petitioners on her behalf, she deserved.

She had served well

Owing to her illness, she was to have been deported on Aug. 8 last year.

“During the three years when she was able, Tejada, in her small way, supported the healthcare system that she now desperately needs to care for her,” the petitioners said then.

“She is no burden to the healthcare system. She is being looked after by generous and compassionate doctors who are providing their services for free.”

Through caregivers like Tejada, they argued, Canadians were able to lead productive lives. Having served well, she had more reasons to seek humanitarian protection than refugees that Canada had been known to accept, they said.

Permanent residence
The Tejada case arose around the time the movie “Caregiver,” starring Sharon Cuneta, became a box-office hit.

In July last year, Tejada was granted permanent residency status by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). The decision, Fabregas said then, could lead to the removal of the requirement for caregivers to have a second medical examination to obtain permanent residency status.

The requirement is considered “onerous” as this applies only to caregivers.

Canada’s caregiver program grants permanent resident status to foreign domestic workers after completing three years of work and getting medical and criminal record clearances. According to an article by Nicholas Keung in The Toronto Star, 6,156 live-in caregivers became permanent residents through the program.

Caregivers must undergo two medical examinations. The first is for a work visa, and the second is for applying for immigrant status. Last year, 6,156 live-in caregivers became permanent residents through the program, Keung reported.

Hero’s welcome
Tejada was rushed to the Toronto General Hospital on March 5. She died three days later. Her husband Noli Azada and sister Bernarda, as well as friends and supporters, were beside her.

“Tejada’s remains will be flown back to the Philippines,” Fabregas said. “She deserves a hero’s welcome as her case has paved the way for others to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect.”

As of Tuesday, there was still no word when Tejada would be coming home