Flaminio Ferrari is as proud of his pizza as he is his last name.
But the Penticton restaurateur has no delusions about being the only Ferrari in the pie business — not in Canada, and certainly not in Italy.
Which is why the 50-year-old was stunned when an immigration officer rejected a work permit application for the pizza cook he wanted to bring to B.C. because the man who vouched for his employment in Italy also happened to have the last name Ferrari.
Last month, a federal court judge overturned that decision, finding it "unreasonable" to assume Flaminio Ferrari was related to Marco Ferrari simply because they share a name" so common in Italy ... as to be similar to 'Smith' in English speaking nations."
For the record, Flaminio Ferrari says he's not related to Marco Ferrari — the owner of La Piazzetta, the Brescia-based bar where pizza cook Abdelkarim El Ayachi worked for 18 years before applying to move to Canada.
"They were thinking Ferrari Marco and Ferrari Flaminio, we are relatives and they refused. Sorry, but that is bullshit," Ferrari told the CBC.
"I was very surprised and very upset because I need this guy. He was coming here to live in Canada with his family. He wants to come here to live here and pay taxes here."
'Look in an old phone book'
Ayachi's application for a Temporary Foreign Workers Program permit was rejected in July 2021.
The 42-year-old is a citizen of Morocco but holds an Italian long-term resident permit.
His application to work in Canada included his resume, a positive labour market impact assessment, a copy of his Canadian job offer and a letter of reference from Marco Ferrari.
A Rome-based Canadian immigration officer denied El Ayachi on the grounds "he failed to demonstrate that he would 'be able to adequately perform' the work he sought in the application."
In notes justifying the refusal, the officer wrote: "I note that letter is signed by Marco Ferrari — same family name as restaurant in Canada."
In his decision, Judge Richard Mosley said it was "clear" the officer doubted Marco Ferrari's credibility, based on the coincidence of the two last names. But he didn't give Ayachi a chance to explain.
The officer also claimed Ayachi provided only "minimal evidence of employment as a pizza cook" — despite what Mosley pointed out was a detailed reference from the man who paid him for two decades.
The lawyer who handled the application, Alex Stojicevic, says the government could have addressed any questions about the relationship between the two Ferraris by contacting the two men.
"As simple as that, we would have told them that no, these two aren't related, and that would have been the end of it," he said.
Stojicevic says the immigration officer's thought process is hard to justify in a multicultural country where many citizens share last names but are not related.
"From that perspective, it's quite shocking. They're in Italy. Just do the Google equivalent of a 411 or look in an old phone book, I'm sure you'll find thousands of Ferraris," he said.
"If this wasn't people's lives being put on hold here for six to eight months, and if it wasn't for a restaurant that's screaming for workers being turned down on a perfectly legitimate one, I would have laughed."
'Hard to start a new life'
In a FaceTime call, Ayachi says his wife and three young children have been looking forward to coming to Canada. They sold their house in anticipation of a move and then were devastated to find he'd been rejected.
Flaminio Ferrari says he's spent two years and more than $10,000 — including court costs — trying to secure a permit for his would-be employee. He found Ayachi after months of advertising both in Canada and abroad.
Ferrari says that after nearly 20 years of cooking at la Piazzetta, Ayachi is an expert in a style of thin, crusty pizza popular in Brescia, in northern Italy.
He says the immigration officer's decision also denied the people of Penticton the taste of a particular type of panini for which the region — and Ayachi — are renowned.
Ferrari and his wife Roberta emigrated to Canada themselves 10 years ago; he says they have worked to establish themselves, first in Burnaby and now in the Okanagan, where they run their restaurant, Gusto Ferrari.
"It was hard to start a new life," he says. "But we worked very hard, and finally now, we live a good life, but we know what is the process of immigration."
In a written statement, the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said "in cases where the last name of the person writing the reference letter is the same as the one who is offering employment in Canada, questions of credibility can arise."
The department said applicants are guaranteed procedural fairness — which the judge said Ayachi was denied.
The decision means Ayachi's application will be reconsidered by a new immigration officer in Rome.
If Ayachi does get his permit to work in Penticton, he'll find that his new employers aren't the only Ferraris in town.
Flaminio Ferrari says they've met four other families with the same name. He's not related to any of the others.