Toronto

This Ontario man has a warning for permanent residents: 'Get your Canadian citizenship'

Cornelis Ruijter wants other permanent residents to know what can happen when they lose their travel documents abroad. When his Netherlands passport and Canadian permanent resident card were stolen on a recent trip to Italy, he began a difficult process to get back to the country.

Cornelis Ruijter couldn't return to Canada after his permanent resident card was stolen

A family trip to Italy turned into a nightmare for Cornelis Ruijter, who couldn't get back into the country for five weeks after a thief stole his passport and permanent resident card. (Marilyn Ruyter)

For almost 60 years, Cornelis Ruijter has lived as a permanent resident in Canada, having immigrated to the country with his 14 brothers and sisters in 1961.

The Barrie, Ont., man never bothered becoming a full Canadian citizen, but after a theft abroad left him stranded in Europe for five weeks, he has some advice for any other permanent residents.

"Get your Canadian citizenship and get your passport," he said.

Until last year, when he travelled out of the country, Ruijter would bring his Netherlands passport and his permanent resident card, getting around without fail.

But on Nov. 27, while on a family trip in Italy, he says a thief stole both documents.

The identification card Ruijter received when entering the country in 1961. (Marilyn Ruyter)

According to the Canadian government's website, permanent residents are required to have their permanent resident card or a permanent resident travel document to enter the country.

"Once that's gone, you're not getting back into Canada," he said.

After returning to his native country of the Netherlands, tracking down the right offices and filling out the required paperwork, Ruijter arrived back in Toronto on Jan. 7.

Now, he wants to share his experience with other permanent residents who haven't made their citizenship official.

Watch as Cornelis Ruijter is reunited with his wife:

After a theft abroad left Cornelis Ruijter without his Netherlands passport or his Canadian permanent resident's card, he began a difficult process to get back to the country, and his family. 0:32

After a few calls, he realized it would take some time to replace them and left his family vacation to go to the Netherlands.

He found out he'd have to travel to Vienna to get a new permanent resident card, so instead he went through the steps to get a new Netherlands passport.

After showing his few remaining pieces of ID — his driver's licence and his health card —  officials there processed a passport and had it to him within a week.

The passport then had to travel to Vienna to get a permanent resident stamp so Ruijter could re-enter Canada.

'It can take months'

According to immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo, five weeks is a good news story for someone in Ruijter's predicament.

"That's as good as it gets," he said.

"It can take months and months to get that documentation, so in his case, Netherlands acted quickly."

Ruijter's daughter gives him a farewell hug before he leaves for the Netherlands. (Marilyn Ruyter)

Bellissimo said the loss of a permanent resident card can cause serious complications for travellers.

"When someone loses that card, they then have to move de facto to their original travel document, which would be the passport of a country they may not have lived in for 30, 40 years," he said.

The reason for that, the lawyer said, is that authorities need time to confirm people are who they say they are if they don't have formal documents.

Bellissimo has also seen cases of lost permanent resident cards in countries where it's logistically much harder to get a replacement.

"Other countries ... might not have the sophistication yet or the internal infrastructure to produce these documents in a timely way. He could've, if he was from another country, could've been sitting for many, many months; worst case scenario, years," he said.

Immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo says if Ruijter came from a different country, without the resources to acquire the documents quickly, he could've been stranded for a lot longer. (CBC)

The lawyer's advice if you're eligible to become a Canadian citizen: Get your passport immediately.

"There's still too many people that don't access that right to apply for citizenship," he said.

"Ultimately it gives you the ability to know that Canada is your permanent home, and in my view, especially with the trends in the world and what's happening, there's nothing more important than that for you and your family."

'We're so lucky'

Back in Canada now, Ruijter and his siblings will be applying for citizenship right away.

"I plan on finishing that off and doing it," he said. "It's a warning for a lot of other people … if they ever lose that permanent resident card, they've got a problem."

Marilyn Ruyter's family of 12 also emigrated from the Netherlands in 1961. (Marilyn Ruyter)

Ruijter's wife, Marilyn Ruyter, is also relieved to have him home.

"We're so lucky … Both of us have very large families, lots of friends, lots of contacts," she said.

"I cannot imagine how somebody on their own could've done all this; it was extremely stressful."

In the meantime, there are some perks to being back in Canada that Ruijter planned to enjoy immediately.

"It's been a while since I've had a Timmies … and a good Canadian beer."

Ruijter headed straight to Tim Horton's for a coffee before leaving Pearson International Airport Jan. 7. (Marilyn Ruyter)

About the Author

Taylor Simmons

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Taylor Simmons works in all areas of the CBC Toronto newsroom, from writing for the website to producing TV and radio stories. Taylor grew up in Mississauga, Ont. and studied journalism at Western University. You can reach her at taylor.simmons@cbc.ca.

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