Protests held across Canada urging politicians to help reunite families amid COVID-19 pandemic
MONTREAL -- Protesters gathered in cities across Canada on Saturday, calling on the goverment to do more to help reunite families kept apart by slow immigration procedures and COVID-19 pandemic related travel bans.
In Montreal, demonstrators assembled in front of the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada offices on Saint-Antoine St. West. Among them was Misha Pelletier and her son Santino, who have been waiting for a visa for Pelletier's husband in Tunisia since they started the process in September of 2018.
Pelletier is part of a group calling itself 'Familles en instance de parrainage familial au Canada touchees par la COVID-19'.
"I feel completely defeated right now," said Pelletier. "I've decided to put up this fight because the only thing I can do when no one is listening is raise my voice even louder."
Other protests were held in Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.
"We sent over 40,000 letters to the offices of Justin Trudeau and Minister (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship) Marco Mendicino, and we received no response," said Pelletier, who is part of the movement
Through these protests across the country, organizers hope to attract the attention of Ottawa so that the government can address their situation as a matter of priority.
Pelletier said that couples and families separated by COVID-19 could be reunited on June 8, but only in cases where the person outside Canada was in a country for which no entry visa was granted or required, such as the United States or France.
"They forgot about us. We now want them to listen to us to bring in our loved ones. They are not visitors, they are our families," said Pelletier.
According to a document prepared by the group, activists want to speed up the process of reuniting families and husbands.
The group said that significant delays in processing applications already existed long before the health crisis struck.
To solve the problem, the citizens' group proposes the creation of a "special temporary residence visa" allowing families to come to Canada and stay there until the sponsorship process is concluded.
Criteria ensuring the safety of the process include documentary evidence and an obligation to respect health protocols to prevent cases of COVID-19.
A YEAR APART FROM HER HUSBAND
Pelletier met her husband, originally from Tunisia, when he was studying in Quebec, in 2017. After two years together, the young man was refused permission to stay in Canada in 2019.
They first attempted a common-law sponsorship that was refused and then decided to get married to simplify the process. Despite this, more than a year after sending their request, Immigration Canada still has not responded to the couple.
With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, the situation has deteriorated, and families feel abandoned by the government.
"The offices are not closed for student visas or work visas, they are closed just for us: family sponsorship. We are always the last on the priority list," said Pelletier.
A petition has been launched on the House of Commons website and is sponsored by Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan. It has collected 4,457 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2020.