Sask. doctor and partner advocating for committed couple trying to reunite during COVID-19

Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon and his partner haven't seen each other in months due to the restrictions. Now they want to help others in the same situation.

Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon and Alexandria Aquino haven't seen each other in months due to the restrictions

Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon and Alexandria Aquino, who were seperated by pandemic travel restrictions, are advocating for couples in similar situations. (Submitted by David Edward-Ooi Poon)

A Regina doctor and his partner, who were separated by restrictions put in place during the pandemic, have created an advocacy group hoping to help other families facing similar difficulties.  

Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon hasn't seen his partner Alexandria Aquino, who lives in Ireland, for months because of international travel restrictions. Now, the couple has started the advocacy group 'Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border' and working with #Loveisnottourism to push for family reunification.

"Alexandria is a nurse. I am a physician. We understand completely how dangerous COVID is," Poon said. "What we're asking for is a fair discussion to allow people to come in and we are asking for clear instructions." 

The two don't have a marriage license but are in a committed relationship, Poon said. They were together in Ireland when the travel restrictions were announced. They were initially told Aquino could come to Canada with her paperwork, Poon said. 

"Long story short, I think we were told many conflicting things," he said. 

David Edward-Ooi Poon said his partner Alexandria Aquino was told she could come to Canada with her paperwork and a negative COVID-19 test result. She was turned away in Toronto. (Submitted by David Edward-Ooi Poon)

Aquino tested negative for COVID-19. She travelled to Toronto, presented her paperwork and medical results, but was turned back and had to return to Ireland. Poon said they have been advocating ever since for the federal government to take steps to help families. 

First, they started an official House of Commons petition that has gathered more than 5,300 signatures.

Poon said the petition calls for the term 'immediate family' to include committed partners like fiancees and long-term couples who are not married. Poon said his group is also calling for adult children who wish to be with their parents 'immediate family' and for a standard application process. 

"It makes us feel forgotten. It makes us feel like we did something wrong when we did not. And it certainly makes us feel like we have not been given the fair chance to at least plead our case and discuss our case with the Government of Canada," Poon said. 

The federal government said in a statement that the decision to put substantial restrictions in place was not made lightly and is intended to keep Canadians safe.

"We all have a shared responsibility to flatten the curve," the statement said.

"We recognize that many people have made significant sacrifices amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been looking at ways to keep families together during this pandemic and reunite others who were separated. We have brought forward measures that will permit a limited exemption to this restriction for asymptomatic, immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to enter Canada to reunite."

We are not asking for open borders. We just want to be together.- David Edward-Ooi Poon

Poon said the extension of the international travel restrictions on June 30 — the day it was set to expire — showed the federal government was not having a fair and transparent conversation with families. 

"Does a marriage certificate lower your chance of having COVID-19? NHL players can come in, does the hockey stick lower your chance of having COVID-19?" Poon said. 

Poon noted that NHL players are allowed to bring their married partners and "significant others" into the country as well. 

"We are not asking for open borders. We just want to be together."

The federal government said decisions on admissibility are made by a border services officer based on the information available to them at time of processing.

Alexandria Aquino and David Edward-Ooi Poon are hoping to be reunited in Canada soon. (Submitted by David Edward-Ooi Poon)

Poon said he created a family reunification quarantine plan with a Toronto epidemiologist to show the government how families could be reunited safely. 

He said he's contacted Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and received automated responses or a response that it is not the minister's division and that the request would be transferred to a different Ministry. Poon said he simply wants an answer why some people are allowed in for things like sports, but families cannot reunite. 

"If you're just going to be doing monthly extensions — particularly a month extension on the 11th hour — without justifying … I truly believe that is sidestepping the question and not treating those who are voting Canadians with respect."

With files from The Morning Edition