Canada-US Cross-Border Couple Calls on Federal Government to Expand Definition of “Immediate Family”

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When the federal government announced that immediate family members of Canadian citizens could cross the Canada-U.S. Border on June 8, Dave Wilson of Sioux Lookout, Ont. and Mary Roy of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, rejoices.Finally, after months without being able to see each other because of COVID-19 restrictions that closed the border, they thought they could spend part of their summer vacation together in Northwestern Ontario building their retirement home on Big Vermilion Lake.

The engaged couples, both in their mid-fifties and a few years away from retirement, began preparations for Roy’s visit.

Wilson took time off and stocked the refrigerator with enough food for the mandatory two-week quarantine. Roy arranged with her boss to work remotely for the two to three weeks she would be in Canada and got all of her papers in order.

Cross-border couple engaged between Canada and the United States, Dave Wilson and Mary Roy, call on the government to consider expanding the categories of “immediate family members” eligible to cross the international border, after Roy sees each other refused entry to Canada on June 30 as he attempted to come to their shared property in northwestern Ontario. (Submitted by Mary Roy)

On June 30, Roy drove two hours to the Fort Frances border post. She parked at the window, handed over her papers and was asked to step onto her side while border officials debated whether or not she met the criteria for “immediate family.”

“I was in my car for 20 minutes waiting and the emotions I was feeling were just amazing. It was all… to think I had good reason to go to the border. I own a property. I pay Canadian taxes. I “I am engaged to a Canadian. And then in the next minute, I was like “they will never let me go”. I was crying. I was praying. It went on for 20 horrible minutes, ”Roy said.

His entry was refused.

Many cross-border couples separated by border restrictions

It’s a story that’s been heard often in the country since the world’s longest international land border was closed to non-essential travel on March 21.

Statistics provided by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) show that nearly 13,000 foreign nationals were refused entry to Canada from the United States between March 22 and July 22 because the purpose of their trip was considered discretionary. Of these numbers, more than 5,000 were returned US citizens because the purpose of their trip was considered tourism, recreation or non-essential travel, and 5,400 others were turned back for “other reasons.”

In a written statement from the CBSA, spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said: “The Government of Canada recognizes the challenges this pandemic and the temporary border measures have had on families and has sought ways to keep families together and to support the family unit while carrying out health checks. ”

One of these ways to support family unity is to allow foreign nationals who are an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to enter Canada for non-discretionary purposes for a period of time. 15 days or more if they are asymptomatic and for no reason. to suspect COVID-19 infection.

We are not 20 years old. We are in our fifties and we are committed. She is retiring and moving to Canada and we are getting married next year.– Dave Wilson, emergency room nurse in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

The problem that many long-standing cross-border couples face is in defining who counts as an immediate family. This includes spouses or common-law partners, dependent children, parents or guardians or “guardians”.

Wilson said they both believed she would be able to cross the border.

“We looked at these criteria online on the website and we just assumed that you arrive at the border, you prove that you have a [Canadian] reside here and you are engaged. We are building this property, we had copies of everything, the building permit, we had everything in place and the only reason she didn’t come through is because they said she wasn’t in union fact. ”

The federal government website defines common law as “a person who has lived with another person in a conjugal relationship for at least one year”.

Wilson added, “We’re not 20 years old. We are in our fifties and we are determined. She is retiring and moving to Canada and we are getting married next year. I think they should have taken a step. further and offered that border to Canada with people who are engaged. ”

The couple said they understand and accept the need to close the Canada-U.S. Border to ensure the health and safety of Canadians. But now they are asking the federal government to expand the categories of people eligible to cross the border.

And they are not alone.

Border restrictions need to be relaxed, experts say

Several experts suggest that the border will not open until the new year. This includes the director of the Cross-Border Institute at the University of Windsor, Bill Anderson.

Anderson said he does not foresee a return to a “normal reopening of borders,” like what existed before the pandemic. But he added that the government must start working with U.S. officials to consider options to slowly ease restrictions to address personal and professional concerns.

“The whole question of what is essential from a personal point of view is difficult. So I think what’s going to have to happen is that there’s going to be some sort of process – it can be phased in or maybe it would be good to use tests – broaden the range of tests. people considered “essential” or the types of trips permitted. ”

Anderson added that discussions on how to ease border restrictions should be conducted in the same way as discussions on reopening schools, with safety precautions, infection management and benchmarks negotiated between governments.

Until that happens, Wilson and Roy are stuck in limbo as they wait to meet again and build their future together.

Roy said, “I don’t know how long I’m going to have to wait. Like… yes we might not be married at this point and yes we are not cohabiting. But that’s our long-term goal. This is what we expect. We are the future of the other. ”

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