‘Thousands’ of Canadian cross-border families still unable to reunite

Coronavirus: Some Canadian cross-border families still unable to reunite
WATCH: Canadians with significant others outside of the country are calling for officials to do more to allow them to reunite. Despite measures to do just that, advocates say many remain left out. As Albert Delitala reports, some believe professional athletes are receiving special treatment.

A substantial number of Canadians with partners outside of the country remain unable to see each other despite a move to relax COVID-19 border restrictions for certain families, an advocacy group tells Global News.

The situation feels especially unfair to some, given the apparent special treatment of professional athletes.

Sara Anderson and Joe Forgues have been together for more than three-and-half years on different sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

She lives near Minneapolis and is an American citizen. He lives a five-hour drive north in Thunder Bay, Ont.

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They haven’t seen each other since March when the border closed, a big change from every three to five weeks like before.

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“My life is still on hold. I’m still waiting for this huge part of my life,” she said. “I guess I kind of took it for granted.”

Despite having a combined six children from past relationships and shared assets, their family isn’t considered common law, which means they aren’t eligible for federal family reunification measures announced in June.

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“We’re asking … not for borders to open, but for that family exemption to be expanded,” she said.

Current reunification measures are restricted to “immediate family,” defined as a spouse, common-law partner or dependent child.

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David Edward-Ooi Poon, co-founder of Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border Group, told Global News the situation remains unfair to “thousands” of families.

“Committed couples, so those in long-term relationships — fiances in particular — and those who are committed but cannot marry due to either religious, personal or LGBTQ+ reasons,” Poon said, listing the affected groups.

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Adding to the frustration, NHL players, set to resume games next month in hub cities Toronto and Edmonton, will reportedly be allowed to bring “significant others,” seemingly not limited to just a spouse or common-law partner.

“Does a marriage certificate lower your chance of having COVID? Does a hockey stick?” Poon asked.

“Does (being) married or being with a hockey player lower your chance of COVID?”

Discussions are also underway to see the Toronto Blue Jays play games at home, which would mean teams visiting from the U.S.

Global News contacted Public Safety Canada for comment, asking whether the apparent different standards for athletes is fair, but the question was not specifically answered.

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Poon’s group authored an official House of Commons petition calling for unmarried, non-common-law couples and extended family to be included in the border closure exemption. It had received nearly 5,300 verified Canadian signatures by the time it closed on July 10, he said.

He also proposes a family reunification “quarantine plan” that would require Canadian family to sign an affidavit affirming the familial connection to a foreign national and act as a guarantor that the quarantine would be followed.

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For time being, Sara Anderson waits for the day she can see her family again.

“That’s my family. How would anybody feel after not seeing them for months?”