Canadian-U.S. couple separated by COVID-19 drives to border to 'reunite'
MONTREAL -- It was a bittersweet, half reunion for Basheer Amin and Chloe Bordewich Monday, who drove to the Derby Line, where the U.S. meets Canada, to see each other in person for one of the first times since the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world.
"We were able to talk to each other across this piece of caution tape," Bordewich said. "We definitely planned this thinking we have no idea how much longer this [pandemic] is going to be."
The couple met in Turkey and has been together, mostly doing long distance, for five years. When Amin moved to Canada, they expected that to change; the pandemic had other plans.
However, during their brief meeting at the border, they received a little good news. The federal government announced it would allow fully vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents into Canada starting on Aug. 9. By Sept 7., that could be extended to other foreign nationals.
All travellers will have to provide proof of vaccination as well as submit a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of reaching the border.
"For a moment, I did not believe this, you know? I was like, 'Can you make sure again that it's an official announcement?" said Amin.
"We had lost our ability to be hopeful and optimistic and so, that was really restored when we heard the news," said Bordewich, adding she has already booked a plane ticket for Aug. 10.
Amin, a Syrian refugee, currently holds temporary resident status in Canada.
"It's very hard. Every time, something has been there... The president [of the U.S.] was a problem with his rules... The Muslim ban," Amin said. "Now, because of the pandemic, I wasn't able to apply for a visa. I have a travel document, but I can't renew it because Canada is not renewing travel documents."
A full-time history student, Amin also works at Poulet Syriana, a restaurant, and as an on-demand telephone Arabic and Kurdish language interpreter for hospitals, immigration services and more.
Bordewich, a U.S. citizen, lives in Boston and is completing her PhD in history.
She is not considered an immediate family member under the COVID-19 guidelines by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which came into effect when the Canada-U.S. border was shut to non-essential travel on March 21, 2020.
"Canada did ease certain restrictions to allow certain exemptions for some couples back in October," Bordewich told CTV News. "They didn't apply to us because of his status as a refugee. So, we weren't eligible for any exemptions and I don't think there was much interest in creating those kinds of exemptions."
With news that border restrictions are finally easing up, the couple says they are counting down the days until they can truly be together.
"We were able to finally move on beyond survival mode and be able to not just think about, 'OK, where are we going to be next week?' Or, 'will we be able to see each other next month?' but actually think ahead, maybe for the first time," said Bordewich. "Just being able to just talk face to face for the first time really in a very long time."
THOUSANDS STILL IN THE DARK
Monday's announcement by the federal government is good news for people with relatives in the U.S.
However, Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon, founder of Faces of Advocacy, an organization that aims to reunite families kept apart during COVID-19, estimates there are still tens of thousands of Canadians currently separated from their loved ones.
"Faces of Advocacy originally gave the government the benefit of the doubt that family reunification fell between the cracks," he told CTV News. "However, given how loud we became, we now believe that the separations due to COVID-19 restrictions on families are actually a political one and not a scientific one."
Since its inception in May 2020, more than 11,800 people have joined Faces of Advocacy in the hopes of reuniting with their families.
"We are directly responsible for the extended family and compassionate exemptions into Canada," he explained. "We are not asking for open borders, we are just asking to be together."
Poon, who was personally affected when Canada closed its borders, says an abundant number of people wrote letters and called their members of parliament (MPs) for help over the last year, but to no avail.
"This is unacceptable in a country that prides itself on transparency," Poon insists. "Many of the government MPs will toe the party line and this is where I feel it's been political. For example, NHL players last year were allowed to come into Canada -- before families were -- and that is we called a slapshot to the face. It was very harmful."
The IRCC insists restrictions are in place to help stem the spread of the pandemic and "the Government of Canada continues to safely ease travel restrictions as appropriate, while protecting the health, safety and security of Canada and Canadians."
However, even with the easing of restrictions on Aug. 9 for fully-vaccinated U.S. citizens, "these changes do not impact temporary residents of Canada and their immediate family members."
"Written authorization is still required, and IRCC will continue to process requests for written authorizations for the purpose of family reunification, where applicable, until further notice," the agency told CTV News.
According to the IRCC, only certain people are currently allowed to enter the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"American citizens and permanent residents of the United States, who currently reside in the U.S. and who qualify as fully vaccinated travellers, will be able to enter Canada for discretionary travel starting Aug. 9," the department states. "Unless eligible, other foreign nationals can’t enter Canada at this time."
For a person to be allowed into the country, they must be either a citizen, permanent resident or an immediate family member. This includes:
- Spouse or common-law partner;
- Dependent child;
- Parent or step-parent;
- Guardian or tutor.
For extended family members, written authorization must be given by the IRCC. This includes:
- adult (18+) couples in an exclusive dating relationship for at least one year who have spent time in each other's physical presence;
- a non-dependent child (adult child);
- a grandchild (dependent child of a non-dependent adult child);
- a sibling, half-sibling or step-sibling;
- a grandparent.
"Even if a traveller has a valid travel document and written authorization from IRCC, they may not be able to travel at this time or be guaranteed entry to Canada," the agency said. "The final determination on entry to Canada is made by a border services officer at a port of entry."
The IRCC states stays in Canada must be 15 days or more, unless the visit is for essential reasons and visitors must have a quarantine plan "that shows how you’ll quarantine for 14 days when you arrive in Canada."
This rule applies to temporary residents of Canada who would like to be reunited with immediate family -- something Poon points out is unrealistic for people who have jobs or other obligations that don't allow them to be away for longer than two weeks.
"Temporary residents who pay Canadian taxes, who contribute to our economy, who go to school here, are not given any reasonable pathway for reunification," he insisted. "These people really do need a way to come together."
To keep up-to-date on who is allowed to enter Canada at this time, click here.