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B.C. family trapped in Philippines amid worsening COVID-19 cases

Click to play video 'Nanaimo family stuck in Philippines amid worsening COVID-19 cases' Nanaimo family stuck in Philippines amid worsening COVID-19 cases
Nanaimo family stuck in Philippines amid worsening COVID-19 cases

A Nanaimo man says government red tape is blocking his wife and two children from safely returning to Canada from the Philippines.

Martin McGeough’s wife Joanne was born in the Philippines but is a Canadian permanent resident. His four-year-old son and 20-month-old daughter are Nanaimo-born Canadian citizens.

Joanne has been barred from flying to Canada because her permanent residency card has expired, and she does not have a current visa.

Read more: What to know if you’re a Canadian stuck abroad amid the coronavirus outbreak

“They’re taking legal precedence and protocol over protecting two very young Canadian lives, I don’t understand that,” he told Global News.

“The Philippines has in the past closed the border without notice, so within a day, they might not be able to travel home, and they could be stuck there for months or even a year.”

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On Saturday, the Philippines reported its fourth-highest spike in new COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to ABS-CBN News.

Click to play video 'Woman recounts stress of returning to Alberta from Philippines during pandemic' Woman recounts stress of returning to Alberta from Philippines during pandemic
Woman recounts stress of returning to Alberta from Philippines during pandemic

The family flew to the country back in November, with Joanne entering on her Filipino passport. McGeough returned to Canada in January.

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Joanne and the kids were meant to return in early April, but were locked down when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out; they’ve since run into multiple problems trying to book through-flights.

It was only last Tuesday when they secured passage — only to discover the problem with her PR card at the Manila airport, where they were denied boarding, he said.

“It’s a bit too emotional,” was all McGeough could manage, his voice cracking, when asked how much he missed his wife and children.

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The trio are currently staying with family in a Manila suburb.

Read more: International air travel to Canada continues to rise, despite coronavirus border restrictions

McGeough has been working with Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly to try and solve the document problem.

Manly said there is no doubt that Joanne qualifies as someone who can enter the country during the pandemic, but that without the right documents, she can’t fly.

“She is absolutely an immediate family member, but she doesn’t have current travel documents, and the person checking documents didn’t let her board the plane,” he said.

Click to play video 'Dozens of Canadians denied flight home from India Sunday' Dozens of Canadians denied flight home from India Sunday
Dozens of Canadians denied flight home from India Sunday

Joanne filed paperwork to renew the card on Wednesday, and Manly said immigration officials were “bending over backward” to get the issue resolved.

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The relevant documents have now been sent to officials at the Canadian Embassy in Manila, where they need to be processed, he said.

“This is a really unfortunate situation, but somebody in Manila was following the protocols and the procedures that are in place (when they denied boarding),” he said.

“There are thousands of people right now with expired permanent resident cards that are trying to get their … cards updated so they can come back to Canada.”

Read more: Coronavirus: 2 international flights to YVR flagged for possible exposure

The family has booked a flight for Sunday but fears the paperwork won’t be processed in time, leaving them trapped in a country where the pandemic is worsening.

Parts of the country are being locked down as case number surge.

McGeough said airline staff has said they’d let her board a plane if they could provide a letter or email from Canadian officials declaring their right to enter the country. He said officials are unwilling to do so.

He said he understands Joanne’s card should have been updated, but given the crisis situation, can’t grasp why officials won’t put protocol aside until she and the children are on Canadian soil.

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“If you’re perfect and you’ve never forgotten to renew anything on time, well congratulations, but I don’t know anybody in that situation,” he said.

“This is outside of a normal procedure-type thing and protocol shouldn’t come into play, they should simply be able to bring them home.”