Toronto couple denied June travel exemption now carving out life in N.L. outport

The couple and their newborn twins were eventually granted entry to N.L. — and it ended up changing their lives.

Heidi Matthews and her young family bought saltbox house in Whiteway

Heidi Matthews and David Slavick are new parents. Matthews was denied a travel exemption to come to Newfoundland and Labrador in June to help with child care, and was later granted after an appeal. (Submitted by Heidi Matthews)

A couple living in Toronto who were denied a travel exemption to Newfoundland and Labrador for help with caring for their newborn twins are now looking toward the future after the province granted an appeal.

Heidi Matthews and David Slavick became new parents last year. Matthews applied to travel to the province to introduce her children to family and get help with child care. However, she told CBC in June that she had been denied entry without a reason.

"We're living in a time where at home in Toronto now, we're not comfortable, and we're not able to invite other people into the home to help us out with our caregiving responsibilities during very crucial first weeks and months of [our] children's lives," Matthews, a law professor at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, told CBC Radio's On The Go in June.

CBC News asked Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health, about Matthews' denial at a June COVID-19 briefing. Fitzgerald said she could not speak to every decision made by her office, but noted Matthews could appeal the decision.

Matthews applied for and was granted an appeal. She travelled to Newfoundland with her family in August, and began her two-week isolation period in Whiteway, a community just north of Dildo.

"Basically they just said that the grounds put forward, being the need for child care under the circumstances of the pandemic, were sufficient to justify an exemption," Matthews said in an interview Wednesday.

Us getting the exemption changed the course of our lives- Heidi Matthews

Matthews said she and her husband couldn't have expected what was coming after her isolation period was complete.

"We actually decided to purchase the little, old, traditional saltbox house by the sea that we isolated in," she said. "As we watched the pandemic progress in Toronto, and as we sort of got further and further entrenched in our new community, we thought this is really the perfect house to buy for us to live in, and for us to keep in the future."

As a Newfoundlander, Matthews expected kindness from her new neighbours — but nothing like the reception they encountered. 

"We could never have anticipated that Whiteway … would have welcomed us so warmly," she said.

But with that embrace also came some negative feedback, through what Matthews called the "insider-outsider mentality." One of her main takeaways from the move, she said, is the complex nature of belonging, and which issues are important enough to warrant an exemption.

"People's lives are complicated, and it's really difficult to make decisions based on who's allowed to travel where," she said. "Essential travel can be a really capacious and broad category that could, and I think should, take into consideration the complexity of people's lives, including mental health aspects.

Heidi Matthews tried to return to Newfoundland and Labrador with her newborn twins. She was denied a travel exemption. (Submitted by Heidi Matthews)

"It's not just saying, 'You can wait to come visit another day,' or the sort of feedback that I received after the initial story," she added. "But there's a lot of room for newness and renewal and beauty and joy. Not allowing to travel when they have a good reason, and when they're willing and able to abide by isolation policies, can have a lot of knock-on serious effects."

With an end to the pandemic not yet in sight, Matthews and her family are staying in Whiteway for the near future and teaching in Toronto remotely. 

"We're living in this 100-year-old house that … instead of sitting here unoccupied as it was, it's now filled with the sounds of our twins growing up next to the ocean for at least the first year of their lives, and then for many summers to come," she said.

"Us getting the exemption … changed the course of our lives and our children's. I don't think I'm overstating the case."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go