THE CANADIAN PRESS -- MONCTON, N.B. - Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will rescind a deportation order for a South Korean family at the centre of a growing public protest in New Brunswick now that the province has confirmed it will cover the health costs associated with the family's autistic son, a federal source confirmed Thursday.
The Maeng family's story has attracted national attention because federal officials had said the family had to leave Canada by June 30 because providing health care and social services for 14-year-old Sung-Joo would put too much strain on the system.
On Wednesday, the New Brunswick government responded to growing public outrage by handing a private letter to the family confirming the province will pay for the boy's health-care and social service costs.
The senior Citizenship and Immigration Canada source said the four-member family would be allowed to stay in Canada to continue the process of seeking permanent residency, but Kenney's department couldn't act until Thursday when it received New Brunswick's commitment in writing. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because of privacy issues surrounding the case.
Sung-Joo was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy in 2001.
The Maeng family came to Moncton from Seoul in 2003, hoping the fresh air in the Maritimes would improve the health of their youngest son. At the time, they were granted temporary work visas, having disclosed Sung-Joo's health conditions to federal officials.
A few years later, the boy's parents — Tae-Shik and mother Hee-Eun Jang — opened a grocery store and pressed ahead with the family's bid for permanent residency until May 31, when Kenney's department told them they could no longer stay.
The boy's older brother, 19-year-old Jung-Joo Maeng, has a student visa and is studying science at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Jung-Joo, who also goes by the name John, has said his younger brother is non-verbal, but he is learning to communicate, mainly by pointing at objects. As well, he said Sung-Joo would find it difficult moving back to South Korea, where there is less tolerance for people with autism.
Lawyer Jack Haller said he and the two other lawyers working on the case were baffled by the federal government's initial decision to deport the family, and the legal team was poised to seek an injunction to stop the process.
As well, he said the Sung-Joo's neurologist had said it would be unsafe for the boy to board a plane to Asia.
"I also understand from the family that the young boy has not reacted well because he feels the stress from the family," Haller said, adding that the family faced some real challenges if they were forced to return to South Korea.
"The services are far superior here than anything he would receive in (South) Korea," he said.
Meanwhile, an online petition supporting the family's wish to stay in Canada had attracted 7,000 signatures.
Earlier in the day, the family took part in a news conference in Moncton, where John Maeng thanked Canadians for their support.
"We were just so shocked," he said. "We were thrilled, and found a little more hope."
The federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that foreign nationals can be deemed inadmissible to Canada if their health problems could "cause excessive demand on health or social services."
The threshold is determined by calculating the estimated cost of health care and social services over a five- or 10-year period. If the figure exceeds $5,935 annually — the average per-capita expenditure on health and social services in Canada — permanent residency can be denied.
Haller said Sung-Joo doesn't require expensive medications, will likely be home-schooled and has incurred about $1,000 in hospital-care costs in the past four years.
Last year, about 1,200 applicants were rejected for permanent residency because of health cost concerns.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax