Together for 47 years, couple now separated by American citizenship
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.