Customary / Tribal Marriages and Immigrating to Canada

Marriage ceremonies vary across the world.  Many involve customs and rituals that would be completely foreign to most Canadians.

Marriage can involve a man and a woman.  Or a man and a man.  Or a woman and a woman.  In many places it can involve a man and multiple women. Or a women and multiple men.

Marriages can result after several years of dating.  Or they can be arranged by either the bride or grooms’ parents, friends, or even formal matchmakers. A couple may live together prior to getting married, or they may not.  A couple may sleep together prior to marriage, or, usually for religious reasons, they may not.

A wedding ceremony can be a grand affair.  Sometimes it can last several days.  Or it can occur at a Vegas chapel.  Marriage ceremonies can be by proxy, or even conducted over the telephone.

A marriage can involve the bride and grooms’ friends and family giving them gifts.  Or it can involve the bride or groom giving each other gifts.  It can even involve the exchange of dowries.

Some countries formally register marriages and provide marriage certificates. They can also be completely oral.

Canadian immigration law recognizes that marriage customs vary across the world.  In Siev v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2005 FC 736, the Federal Court confirmed that immigration officers should not apply North American reasoning to an applicant’s conduct. In that case, the Federal Court dismissed the Respondent’s arguments that a large age gap, different lifestyles, and lack of knowledge about each other proved that a marriage was not genuine on the basis that this displayed a North American bias.

The Immigration and Refugee Board recently upheld this case to find that the lack of contact between a husband and a wife had to be viewed through the prism of an arranged marriage, rather than using the standards of a marriage where two individuals meet by chance.

Given the jurisprudence, as well as what is provided in the Citizenship and Immigration Canada manuals, individuals who have had a tribal, customary, or arranged marriage should not be concerned that this will automatically preclude them from sponsoring their spouses to immigrate. However,  people whose marriage customs vary greatly from the North American norm should nonetheless “go the extra mile” when submitting their sponsorship applications.


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