To­gether for 47 years, cou­ple now sep­a­rated by Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - ALANNA SMITH al­smith@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/alan­na_­smithh

A Cal­gary man’s Amer­i­can spouse was de­nied en­try into Canada in late March, forc­ing the cou­ple, who have been to­gether for 47 years, to live apart dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic.

Christophe­r Isaac, 76, and his part­ner Tom, 78, passed cus­toms, grabbed their lug­gage and were on their way out of Cal­gary In­ter­na­tional Air­port on March 22 when Tom was pulled aside.

Forty minutes later, two agents told Isaac his part­ner wouldn’t be al­lowed in the coun­try be­cause of the border clo­sure en­acted just days ear­lier. He was sent back to the U.S. im­me­di­ately.

“For the first six weeks I wouldn’t even talk to any­one on the phone, I was so dis­traught over this,” Isaac said. “We haven’t been apart for that length of time. They put him on a plane and said, ‘Bye’ and that was it. He was on his own.”

Isaac said Tom was “un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously” dropped off in Chicago, the city they had flown from to ar­rive in Cal­gary. It wasn’t un­til the next day that Tom was able to make ar­range­ments to get to Phoenix, where the re­tired cou­ple spend a por­tion of their time each year.

Since then, Isaac has been fight­ing to get his part­ner home but so far has been un­suc­cess­ful.

He said it’s ir­ri­tat­ing the rules seem to be fol­lowed ar­bi­trar­ily, with some fam­i­lies al­lowed through and oth­ers barred based on the “com­pas­sion” of border agents.

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said ear­lier this month that “very dif­fi­cult, very spe­cific de­ci­sions” have to be made by border agents to bal­ance the safety of Cana­di­ans and the flow of goods and ser­vices.

She added they are en­cour­aged to “take into ac­count the spe­cific sit­u­a­tions of spe­cific fam­i­lies, of spe­cific Cana­di­ans, and where pos­si­ble, to take a com­pas­sion­ate ap­proach.”

“We’ve been to­gether so long that we cer­tainly, ini­tially, suf­fered ma­jor dis­crim­i­na­tion just for be­ing gay,” Isaac said. “I thought we were through that and I just hope this isn’t dis­crim­i­na­tion again.”

He con­tacted his lo­cal MP, Jas­raj Singh Hal­lan for Cal­gary For­est Lawn, but it proved in­ef­fec­tive. Hal­lan’s of­fice spoke with the Cana­dian Border Ser­vices Agency to see if it would make a com­pas­sion­ate ex­cep­tion. The re­quest was de­nied.

Hal­lan said his of­fice has heard from al­most 100 peo­ple world­wide who have been sep­a­rated from their loved ones due to the COVID-19 cri­sis.

“While Im­mi­gra­tion (Canada) is main­tain­ing im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers are al­lowed to en­ter Canada, the CBSA is in­con­sis­tent with that mes­sage,” he said. “The con­fus­ing mes­sag­ing is only mak­ing mat­ters worse for fam­i­lies im­pacted at this time.”

The MP said he con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate for his con­stituents and is com­pil­ing a list of af­fected in­di­vid­u­als with the Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus to bring for­ward to the Lib­eral govern­ment.

For the first six weeks I wouldn’t even talk to any­one on the phone, I was so dis­traught over this.

There is a glim­mer of hope, how­ever, Isaac said.

On Fri­day morn­ing, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said the govern­ment is work­ing on a plan to re­con­nect fam­i­lies that have been sep­a­rated be­cause of cit­i­zen­ship at the U.S. border.

“We have been look­ing at ways of per­haps al­low­ing close fam­ily mem­bers — chil­dren, spouses or par­ents — of Cana­dian ci­ti­zens or per­ma­nent res­i­dents to be able to re­unite un­der strict con­di­tions,” Trudeau said.

“This would not change the ap­proach on clos­ing the borders un­til the end of June, de­pend­ing on dis­cus­sions be­yond, but it is look­ing at how we can sup­port fam­i­lies go­ing through ex­tremely dif­fi­cult times.”

The fed­eral govern­ment said it is in dis­cus­sion with pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial lead­ers. A de­ci­sion could be made as soon as this com­ing week.

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