Nova Scotia

How a clerical error is preventing this Halifax man from flying into Canada

Thor Henrikson says a case of mistaken identity when he first landed in Canada as a boy in 1969 is preventing him from flying back into the country or becoming a citizen.

Thor Henrikson moved to Canada from Iceland as a 6-year-old boy but his name was recorded incorrectly

Thor Henrikson, who works as a filmmaker, says since his original permanent resident card expired he hasn't had the necessary documentation to return to Canada by air or apply for Canadian citizenship. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

A clerical error made in 1969 is the most stressful part of Thor Henrikson's life. 

The filmmaker, who co-owns a virtual reality company in Halifax, has been trying unsuccessfully to apply for a new permanent resident card to replace the documentation he received when arriving in Canada as a six-year-old boy. 

Similar to a passport, the card is now required to get back into the country when flying to Canada or travelling on a commercial vehicle.

Not only is travel a problem, but because Henrikson doesn't have a card, he can't apply for Canadian citizenship.

"I've never had any legal trouble in Canada, never any criminal trouble," he said. 

"It's depressing. It feels like your country doesn't want you."

Icelandic naming convention

At issue is his surname.

He was born Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson. As per Icelandic tradition, the surname Thorsteinsson was an adaptation of his father's first name. 

However, when he landed in Canada with his mother in 1969, his name was recorded as Thorsteinn Saemundsson — his father's surname.

"I'm sure the immigration officer just said, 'What do you mean none of the last names match?' My father wasn't even with us, he never came to Canada. So [the immigration officer] wrote down my father's last name and that's been at the root of this whole problem," said Henrikson, who assumed his current surname in Grade 1 when his mother married his stepfather.

He legally changed his surname to Henrikson 10 years ago. 

'Faceless' bureaucracy

Henrikson has a file more than a centimetre thick full of the letters and correspondence with the federal government over the past decade. He's made several applications for his permanent resident card, the most recent in October. 

Thor Henrikson was six when he moved to Canada from Iceland with his mother. (Submitted by Thor Henrikson)

The process has involved getting documents translated from Icelandic, notarized and resubmitting the same documents in an effort to explain the complicated situation.

He said he's never been able to connect with a person directly to explain his situation.

"You just want to give up, but ... you just have to keep fighting this nameless, faceless, contact-less bureaucracy."

Applications considered abandoned

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said Henrikson's applications for a permanent resident card since 2004 were considered abandoned after he didn't submit the necessary documentation. 

An immigration officer recorded Thor Henrikson's surname as Saemundsson, which matched his father's surname but not his own. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

In a statement to CBC, the department said his most recent application still needs documentation to link Thorsteinn Saemundsson with Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson — for instance, a legal name change document, an adoption order or a marriage certificate. 

Henrikson said he's already sent that information to the department.

Producers can't get tax credit

For Henrikson, the issue is simple: Saemundsson was basically a typo and there's no reason federal letters should be addressed to him in that name. 

"It's the most stress-triggering thing in my life right now, dealing with this issue. And it's been 10 years," he said. 

Receiving the card is pressing, Henrikson said, because the Canadian companies he works with can't apply for Canadian film or video production tax credits. 

"[The federal government is] basically holding the tax credit they deserve and need hostage because I can't provide a [Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office] number.... They're hurting." 

Goal to become citizen 

Henrikson has six months before his temporary Icelandic passport expires and he'll be forced to return to Iceland to renew it. 

He is now working with an immigration lawyer. Becoming a Canadian citizen remains his ultimate goal. 

"I sure as hell want to vote in the next election," he said. 

About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past nine years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be reached at elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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