Windsor couple split apart due to COVID-19 border restrictions, unsure when they'll reunite

Michelle Bernier travelled to Michigan just before the Canada-U.S. border closed to non-essential travel, but now can't return to be with her husband in Windsor.

American wife of Windsor man stuck in Michigan

Gus and Michelle Bernier at their wedding on December 23, 2019. (Gus Bernier)

A Michigan woman has been separated from her husband in Windsor since mid-March with no indication that will change until the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic ends.

On March 18, the Canada-U.S. border shut down to all non-essential travel. Michelle Bernier crossed over to Detroit from Windsor that night out of concern that she wouldn't have medical coverage were she to remain in Canada.

The plan was for her to quarantine in Michigan for 14 days and then come back.

But when she tried to return to Windsor to be with her husband Gus — two weeks later — she was denied entry because she wasn't travelling for essential reasons. 

Michelle Bernier with one of her grandchildren. (Gus Bernier)

The next day, Gus went into hospital with a bronchial infection in Windsor, where he remained for three days.

When he got out, he quarantined for 14 days. At the end of those two weeks, Michelle once again tried to enter Canada, only to be denied. 

"It's horrible, I've never experienced anything like this in my life," said Bernier.

The couple is currently working with immigration lawyer Eddie Kadri to find some way to reunite before the border is opened again.

According to Kadri, when travel restrictions were initially put in place at the border, immediate family members were exempt. Over time, however, Kadri has seen that change. 

"It's not that the officers are doing anything wrong, it's just that we need the federal government to step up and give us more clarity on what they intended with these policies," said Kadri.

A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) explained the organization's position on allowing U.S. citizens to enter Canada, saying that entry is only permitted if people are asymptomatic for COVID-19; the reasons for travel are essential and not optional or discretionary; and people are able to comply with a quarantine order if required to do so.

"A foreign national seeking to enter Canada from the U.S. must be travelling for a non-discretionary purpose in order to be considered for entry," wrote Mark Stuart. "Immediate family members are not exempt from the optional or discretionary requirement."

While CBSA workers are on the front lines trying to use discretion, couples like Michelle and Gus have had their world turned upside down by this global pandemic. Gus can't cross to be with her, and Michelle can't get to Windsor.

... We need the federal government to step up and give us more clarity ...- Eddie Kadri, Windsor  immigration lawyer

"She's my wife. We're married. So I never thought they were going to stop her from entering the country and plus I have a place to live, it isn't like she's coming across with no place to go, this is home," said Gus.

Michelle is in the process of getting her Canadian citizenship. She had a visitor's visa but it expired on April 15 — two days before her first attempt to cross the border back into Canada.

Kadri told her it would be OK, because she can't renew the visa until the pandemic is over anyway.

Michelle and Gus met two-and-a-half years ago. They were married last December.


with files from Amy Dodge


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