Janet French, Postmedia
, Last Updated: 1:29 AM ET
EDMONTON — A paralyzed Edmonton woman who lived under threat of deportation is rejoicing after the Canadian government granted her permanent residency on compassionate grounds.
“Yesterday I received it, and I was just bursting into tears in Canada Place,” Vicky Venancio said Wednesday. The 31-year-old woman came to Canada as a temporary foreign worker in 2011.
While cycling to work at a Mill Woods McDonald’s in 2012, a vehicle struck her, rendering her a quadriplegic. At first, she could only move her head. No longer able to work, the federal government ordered her deported to the Philippines.
She spent nearly three years in Edmonton without public health insurance, while friends supported her and fundraised to help her fight to stay in the country. Money from an injury settlement soon ran out.
A family doctor who treated Venancio for free became an “angel in her life,” and she enrolled in research studies at the University of Alberta to access physiotherapy.
Three years, two months and 10 days after the crash — yes, she counted — a tenacious Venancio took her first step. She now lives on her own and moves around the apartment with a walker.
“I don’t have any reason to give up,” she said.
Edmonton lawyer Sol Rolingher lobbied federal politicians to consider Venancio’s unusual circumstances, instead of living by the letter of immigration law.
“We owe this lady a debt of gratitude,” Rolingher said Wednesday. “We don’t turn out backs on people who are hurt through no fault of their own.”
Even after securing a two-year work permit in 2015, Venancio lived in limbo. She was afraid to leave Canada — even to say goodbye to her dying mother in the Philippines — knowing she couldn’t get back across the border.
Wanting to go back to school, the options available to her as an international student were limited and too expensive, she said. Now, many of those barriers have evaporated.
She spends her days volunteering at the Glenrose and University hospitals, talking with others who have spinal cord injuries, and also speaking to students about life and recovery since the injury limited the use of her body from the neck down.
Although she’s looking for a computer or clerical job to pay the bills, she wants to study to be a social worker.
“I love it. I love talking with people who are dealing with the same struggle in life.”
She also volunteers weekly in the constituency office of federal Amarjeet Sohi, the Liberal MP for Edmonton-Mill Woods and minister of infrastructure and communities.
Sohi has lobbied on Venancio’s behalf since he was a city councillor. He’s inspired by her determination to get her life back together, and said he’s confident Venancio will be a successful Canadian.
“This is a file that has been very close to my heart. So I am very happy to see the outcome,” Sohi said Wednesday.
After she began working in Edmonton in 2011, Venancio would send money to the Philippines to help support her mother. She kept the injury a secret until her mother became ill. When Venancio finally divulged the catastrophic injury, she promised her dying mother she would persevere.
Now, she feels one step closer to “normal.”
“I’m so excited for a new journey of my life.”