B.C. woman dying of cancer can't see sister because of COVID-19 travel ban
OTTAWA -- With just weeks to live, Charie Santiago has one final wish: to see her sister again.
The 38-year-old is at home in Whistler, B.C., receiving palliative care for ovarian and uterine cancer.
Her younger sister and best friend, April, is a world away in the Philippines, unable to visit because the Canadian government won't grant an exemption to the COVID-19 travel ban.
"It would give her that peace of mind that she was able to properly say goodbye, say goodbye to her sister,” her husband, Arthur, told CTV News.
Santiago's mother's request was granted, and after quarantining in the Vancouver area for two weeks, she drove up to Whistler to see her daughter this week.
But although an exception was made for Santiago’s mother, the Immigration department has said siblings aren't considered immediate family.
- Read more: 'I just don't think it's right': Ottawa denies terminally ill B.C. woman visit with sister from Philippines
In a letter in July from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, April was told “you should not plan or undertake any travel to Canada, as you will be prevented from boarding your flight.”
The distinction between which family members are allowed to visit on compassionate grounds and which are not is perplexing and devastating to the family.
“This is her blood sister,” her husband said. “We’re not talking about a half-sister. They grew up together until she came here to be with me.”
The Santiago family is far from the only one stuck in this position.
In Parliament Thursday, the public safety minister was asked about a similar case of an Ontario woman who has been unable to have her fiance visit from the U.K. while she is being treated for thyroid cancer.
Bill Blair responded that the government has “a process in place to deal with those cases of compassion so that we can determine whether or not they are necessary for entry and that it can be done safely.”
CTV News reached out to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino to ask if his office would have any jurisdiction in this matter. His department said in a statement that there is currently no exemption for foreign nationals to visit critically ill loved ones.
While athletes, migrant workers and some people conducting business have been able to cross the border despite the pandemic, many families in desperate situations are caught in technicalities.
They aren’t alone in their struggle. An advocacy group has formed to push the government to help families caught in these agonizing circumstances.
"If the question is the security and safety of Canadians, then what makes an NHL player more important than someone whose fiance is dying of cancer, than the adult child of a mother who is about to pass away, where is the compassion in that?" David Edward-Ooi Poon, co-founder of Faces of Advocacy, said to CTV News.
The group is working to try to make family reunification easier for those living in Canada with loved ones outside of the border.
But even if this advocacy manages to spur a rule change, it may not be soon enough for the Santiago family.
Arthur Santiago said he is begging for something to be done before his wife passes away.
“Please,” he said. “Just give my wife this one last wish."
With files from Alexandra Mae Jones