Couples separated by Canada-U.S. border still fighting to be reunited, 10 months later
MONTREAL -- Cross-border couples kept apart by the COVID-19 pandemic are still fighting to be reunited, 10 months later.
For Chantal Leger, whose partner of four years lives in Vermont, what was once an hour-and-a-half drive to see each other has turned into 15 hours of travelling.
"I went through three airports to get to see him," Leger said of her trip to Vermont in the fall, when she flew from Montreal to Philadelphia, and then to Burlington.
The decision between Canada and the U.S. to close borders to non-essential travel at the beginning of the pandemic has been renewed several times over the past 10 months -- but an exception was made for married couples in June. Following complaints from long-term, unmarried couples, that exception was extended to them in October.
“My significant other and I applied on October 21 for this exemption, we received an auto reply from Immigration Canada… and we haven’t heard anything since,” Leger told CTV News ahead of the holidays. "It’s been 61 days and I’ve had no sign of life from Immigration Canada."
A group on Facebook called Faces of Advocacy suggested for those in situations like Leger's to reach out to their local MPs, which she said she did.
"The only feedback that they’ve been able to give me is they got in touch with Immigration Canada, Immigration Canada told them I was missing information in my application and they didn’t feel like Immigration Canada gave a very clear understanding of what was missing," Leger said.
With no knowledge of what information was missing from her application, and no follow-up from Immigration Canada, she and her partner have been largely left in the dark.
As a result, they spent the holidays apart, and they don't know when they'll be able to see each other again given the mandatory quarantine period following travels.
“Not everyone can take 14 days at their leisure whenever they want, and people do get time off during the holidays," Leger said.
Her partner was supposed to come to Montreal this time.
"This would be the time for him to come up and if we miss this opportunity, I don’t know when I’m going to see him," she said.
"It’s important to keep families and loved ones together—particularly during difficult times. That’s why a process was introduced for compassionate cases and to reunite extended family and long-term couples," Shannon Ker, communications advisor at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in an emailed statement to CTV News.
She added that applications are assessed based on the date they are received and that it's important for those applications to be complete.
"If any required information or documents are missing, it may take us longer to respond," Ker added. "If there is information missing, officials will follow up to ensure it is processed as quickly as possible."
Leger said, however, that Faces of Advocacy has been tracking approvals, and there doesn't seem to be any pattern to how people are being approved.
Now, Leger is still unaware of what information could be missing from her application, and once the holidays arrived, she said she began receiving auto-reply messages from officials saying they were out of office.
“My tipping point was when I replied to an email from my minister and I got an auto-reply from them saying that they’re going to be on holidays starting today," she said. "They’re taking holidays while I’m left high and dry."
Leger isn't the only one experiencing issues with Immigration Canada -- though some have managed to successfully reunite with their loved ones.
"Some people apply three, four, five times, they get rejected, they reapply, they don’t hear back – they reach out to their MPs to find out that they were approved a month ago and then when they ask for a copy of their approval letter they still have no news," she said.
In her latest attempt at getting some answers, Leger says Immigration Canada told her to send out an email to an address she's never received a response from. Then, she said her local MPs told her the person best positioned to respond to her inquiry would be Immigration Canada.
"Another dead end," Leger said. "There are hundreds of people who’ve had to fight so hard, this has become a full-time job for some people."