Stranded in Trinidad, Toronto woman 'overwhelmed' by social media response

An award-winning Toronto playwright who’s been stranded in Trinidad since Sunday after not being allowed to board a flight home says she’s overwhelmed by the response on social media to her situation.

Playwright was travelling on valid Jamaican passport but expired Canadian passport

d'bi young anitafrika is an award-winning Toronto playwright who's been stranded in Trinidad since Sunday. Caribbean Airlines refused to let her board a flight back home because her Canadian passport had expired. (Wade Hudson)

An award-winning Toronto playwright who's been stranded in Trinidad since Sunday after not being allowed to board a flight home says she's overwhelmed by the response on social media to her situation.

d'bi young anitafrika says she was not allowed on a Caribbean Airlines flight despite being a Canadian citizen and travelling on a valid Jamaican passport. She was also carrying her Canadian citizenship card and her Canadian passport, but it had expired two months ago.

On her Facebook page, anitafrika said a ticketing agent told her she could not travel on a Jamaican passport that did not have a Canadian visitor's visa.

"I assured her that my Jamaican passport was valid and I would indeed be able to go home on the passport with my Canadian citizenship card," anitafrika wrote. "Long story short, the supervisor came out and reiterated that I would need to go to the Canadian embassy to get it sorted out." The airline also told her she would have to buy a new ticket after getting a new passport, anitafrika said.

In an interview with CBC News, anitafrika said she logged on to Facebook to notify friends of her predicament immediately after being stopped from boarding the plane.

"They immediately began to respond," she said in an interview via Facebook. "I have never experienced this in my entire life. The response from the community was completely overwhelming and a confirmation for me that the power of the people is alive, thriving and able to move rivers and mountains."

'Deeply loved and appreciated'

"I also got to experience what it means to be deeply loved and appreciated, and that has been bringing tears of joy throughout this entire experience," she said.

Anitafrika told CBC she was "curling up on a bench getting ready to stay at the airport all night when two elderly black women came up to me and said they'd come to get me."

Anitafrika said the women, whom she'd never met, were sent by "a friend of a friend of a friend whose mother was one of the women."

On Facebook, many of anitafrika's friends offered to wire her money so she could fly home and others suggested they contact the Canadian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago.

A spokesperson for Caribbean Airlines told CBC News that it cannot allow someone to fly with the airline without a valid passport.

"In this specific instance, it is my understanding that her Canadian passport is expired," Dionne Ligoure said in an email, adding that a driver's licence or citizenship card are not considered travel documents.

"If the passenger is holding a Jamaican passport, without a valid Canadian visa in the passport, then the airline would not be in a position to accept her to travel into Canada,"she said.

Ligoure said that if her airline didn't comply, it risked being penalized.

"This is not unique to Caribbean Airlines but applies to all airlines operating internationally," she said.

Peter Rekai, a corporate immigration lawyer in Toronto, sided with Caribbean Airlines.

'Not going to get on a plane'

"If your passport to Canada has expired or if you've lost your passport, you're not going to get on a plane," Rekai said, adding that Jamaica requires its citizens to have visas to visit Canada "so the Jamaican passport, which happened to be valid, was not particularly helpful."
Peter Rekai, a corporate immigration lawyer, says if you travel on a Canadian passport that has expired, "you're not going to get on a plane."

Rekai told CBC News that if Caribbean Airlines had allowed anitafrika to fly to Toronto, immigration officials here would have turned her back at the expense of the airline.

"Which is why the airlines are not keen to make exceptions," he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, anitafrika said that she had found a guarantor and would be submitting her application for a new passport on Wednesday morning.

Chris Butcher, a Toronto-based trombonist who's played with anitafrika, was touring the Northwest Territories when he found out about the incident.

He called her "one of the most compelling human beings I've ever met."

"She uses her art as a means to affect positive social change and make us address entrenched societal inequalities all from the position of a deep love for humanity," Butcher told CBC.

Last year, anitafrika received a YWCA Women of Distinction Award.  She's also the recipient of two Dora Awards and an Emerging Artist Award from the Toronto Arts Foundation.


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