Couple arrives on repatriation flight from Peru after weeks of uncertainty
'It's a relief that is so great, it's difficult to describe,' said Canadian Elise Craig
A Canadian woman and her Peruvian husband successfully boarded a Canadian repatriation flight out of Peru and landed in Toronto Friday night, after bureaucratic confusion left the couple worried they would be stranded abroad for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have finally made it home safely. It's a relief that is so great, it's difficult to describe," said Elise Craig, after she and her husband Joseph Ruiz Cordova landed at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
"All the stress that accumulated for weeks and weeks completely dissipated when I saw my brother and mother waiting for us at the exit."
Up until three days before the flight was scheduled to depart, the couple had no idea whether they would be permitted to board a plane that would bring more than 300 Canadians back from Peru, a country hard hit by the crisis.
Initially, international travel restrictions had meant that Cordova — who is not a Canadian citizen — was denied entry into Canada because his trip was deemed non-essential.
On June 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Ottawa would allow some family members separated by temporary COVID-19 restrictions to cross the border into the country.
That meant that Cordova no longer needed to prove the essential nature of his trip; as the spouse of a Canadian citizen, all he needed was a visitor's visa.
But attempts to obtain the necessary paperwork proved to be difficult.
Joy was short lived
A day after the federal government announced the changes, Cordova asked Immigration Canada to review his application for a visitor visa. On June 11, the department instead informed Cordova that it could not process his request for an exemption to travel restrictions.
However, under Ottawa's new rules regarding family reunification, such an exemption was no longer required.
- Government has helped bring home 20,000 Canadians — but many are still stranded abroad by the pandemic
The ordeal felt particularly frustrating given that the MP for Craig's Toronto riding, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, had previously sent a letter to Immigration Canada urging that Cordova's visa application should proceed.
"Given the scarcity of international flights and the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in South America, we feel that it is imperative that Mr. Ruiz Cordova and his wife, Ms. Craig, have the chance to board the chartered plane for Canada," Freeland's constituency office wrote.
Should not have taken media to change outcome, Craig says
Radio-Canada and CBC News first wrote about the couple's ordeal earlier this week. On Tuesday, Craig told Radio-Canada that her husband's visa had finally been approved.
"We would have never gotten here without your story," she said.
But Craig believes it should not have taken media attention to generate a positive outcome for her family.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino's office confirmed to Radio-Canada that a visitor's visa had been issued to Cordova.
In an email, the minister's office stated that anyone wishing to travel to Canada, including family members, must be in possession of a valid travel document.
"A visitor visa is only issued on the commitment that the visitor intends to return to their home country on or before the expiry of their visa," the email read.
Despite the new rules, many visa application centres abroad remain closed. While Immigration Canada is accepting online applications, the department has warned that priority is given to vulnerable people and those who perform essential services.
"I have always found myself lucky to live in a country like Canada," said Craig, who had been working for a women's rights defence group in South America for more than a year. "I always believed that Canadian citizens could trust their government. Let's just say that that ideal has been shaken."