March 12, 2008 / 8:14 PM / 10 years ago

Canadian Web site aims to help mail-order brides

TORONTO, March 12 (Reuters) - Canada can be a bewildering, even frightening place for immigrant women who arrive as mail-order or Internet brides, but now they have a new Web site to help smooth the transition.

While the Canadian government says it does not track where foreign brides come from or how they met their Canadian spouses, those who work with immigrant women say they are seeing more and more brides who connected with their husbands online -- through matchmaking Web sites as well as chatrooms.

However, they often have little knowledge about where they will be living, what the local society is like or what legal rights they have in Canada as a new bride.

“We were seeing more and more foreign brides coming to us asking for help,” said San San Sy, of Changing Together, a center for immigrant woman in Edmonton, Alberta, which helped launch the Internet help site www.lawforforeignbrides.ca.

“The dream is for them to access the information before they come (to Canada),” she said.

Sy said foreign brides don’t know where to find support and many are often shy or wary of seeking it. Others don’t know their legal rights within a marriage or whether or not they have to have children.

“Sometimes the bride comes not knowing that she will be the live-in nanny to take care of aging parents,” Sy said.

Some brides, she added, have seen e-mailed photos of the house they will live in -- but once they arrive are surprised to discover the house is in a small, remote town or in a rural area several kilometers from the nearest neighbor.

The adjustment is hardest on women who end up living in remote areas and don’t have a car to get around.

For example, Sy said the number of mail-order brides in increasing in Fort McMurray, the booming northern Alberta town of 64,441 that is the center of Canada’s huge oil sands industry -- where men easily outnumber women.

“A lot of them are very scared,” Sy said, adding many women just want to blend in and don’t want to “lose face” back home.

Sy said that while there are no hard statistics -- only anecdotal evidence -- that Canada is attracting more foreign brides, the country is seen as a place of opportunity where people can build a good future.

In that sense, the tradition of mail-order brides, which goes back more than a century to when lonely Prairie farmers would advertise for a spouse, has changes little.

The federal immigration ministry says that, in 2006, about 45,000 women arrived as spouses, but it has no data on how many were brides found through the Internet or were part of an arranged marriage.

“We don’t break it down,” said Danielle Norris, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Ottawa.

“To us, as long as it’s a bona fide and legitimate marriage, we wouldn’t track how they got married.”

Meanwhile, Sy said they don’t often hear from happy brides but the unhappy ones are usually frustrated over the time it takes to get sponsorship papers or how long their spouse takes to file them.

She said they also don’t realize the length of time it takes to be allowed to work legally in Canada, she said.

The Web site is funded by the Alberta Law Foundation and managed by the Legal Resource Center, which is affiliated with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension department.

The site also aims to help women who come to Canada through an arranged marriage, who do not feel safe in their marriage, or those already married to a Canadian and need more information about sponsorship.

Editing by Rob Wilson

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