Canadian border closure keeping couple apart despite cancer diagnosis
TORONTO -- The closure of Canada's border to international travellers has forced an Ontario woman and her British fiancé to remain separated for months, even despite her recent cancer diagnosis.
Sarah Campbell and Jacob Taylor were planning to get married in June, but had to postpone their wedding after COVID-19 hit and travel restrictions forced him to remain in the U.K.
"We realized we weren't able to have our wedding here in Canada. I'm planning to move to the U.K. after we get married anyways so my first thought after that was, 'Well I'll just get on a plane and go because the U.K.'s borders have stayed open this whole time'," Campbell explained to CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Thursday.
Campbell said that was the couple's plan until she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last week.
"You have all of this with COVID going on and postponing my wedding indefinitely and then all the health issues, but also, he can't come here and be with me," Campbell said.
"It's heartbreaking. I've had days where I have just fallen apart."
Despite her diagnosis, Campbell said Taylor is still not allowed to enter Canada.
On March 17, Canada announced it was shutting the border to international travellers in an effort to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus. The Canada-U.S. border was also later closed on March 21 to all non-essential or "discretionary" travel. These travel restrictions currently remain in place.
"You can talk and talk and talk, but at some point, you really just need to hug. You just need them to be there and he can't. It's this sense of complete helplessness and like no one is listening to us," Campbell said.
Campbell, who lives in Stratford, Ont. and has dual Canadian-British citizenship, was set up with Taylor last June by their parents, who have been friends for years. After months of long-distance dating, Taylor proposed to her in February at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
"It was like the best moment of my life the day I got to see him again. He just dropped to one knee right then and there and said, 'I can't wait anymore'," Campbell said.
Later that Month, Taylor returned to the U.K. and the couple has now been separated for five months. Campbell said she does not know when she will see him next.
"I fully expect the border closures to continue to be extended. So how long is it going to be? Six, seven, eight, nine months, a year? Do I have to go through all this treatment without him? It’s so preposterous," Campbell said.
While Britain has kept its borders open to non-essential visitors from Canada, the 25-year-old said she cannot travel due to her medical condition as the United Kingdom National Health Service has suspended all cancer treatments amid the pandemic.
Campbell said she has various treatments to remove her entire thyroid scheduled until November and won’t be able to leave the country before then.
"We should have been married by this point. He's not coming here just to kind of be a tourist and just visit with me, we're supposed to be husband and wife already," Campbell said.
As of June 9, immediate family members of citizens or permanent residents who are foreign nationals can enter Canada to be reunited, under a new limited exemption to the current border restrictions.
Eligible immediate family members will be spouses, common-law partners, dependent children and their children, parents, and legal guardians. In order to be allowed in, the family members must have a plan to stay in Canada for at least 15 days, and they will have to self-quarantine for 14 days as soon as they enter the country.
However, fiancés are not included as eligible family members.
"I really want to make it clear that we don't want the borders to open, that's not what we want at all. I think everyone can see how bad things are right now," Campbell said. "But we just want Prime Minister Trudeau to include fiancés and long-term partners in his definition of family because there's people who are being left out."
"It's just a very, very narrow definition of family."
It is ultimately up to individual Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers to have the final say on whether a traveller's reason for crossing the border should be permitted.
Campbell said she hopes the CBSA will make an exemption for Taylor. However, she has sent multiple emails to the agency, the London High Commission and her locals MP's, all of which have said there is nothing they can do to help.
In a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca on Thursday, the CBSA said it understands the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has put on families and that it has been looking at ways to "support family unity while respecting measured public health controls."
"We recognize that these are difficult situations for some, however these are unprecedented times, and the measures imposed were done so in light of potential public health risks and to help reduce and manage the number of foreign travel-related cases of COVID-19," CBSA senior spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said in the email.
Campbell said she is frustrated that NHL and MLB players will be granted exceptions but fiancés will not.
"The fact that the NHL players can come and go -- they may be confined to a specific hotel and have minimal contact with people and be tested -- but if we're doing that for hockey, why can't we do that for fiancés?" Campbell said.
"That means that Canada values hockey above family."
Campbell understands the public health risks with letting foreign nationals into Canada but said Taylor would follow all health guidelines including self-isolating for 14 days and get tested for the virus.
Campbell said she "cannot face cancer" without Taylor by her side and remains hopeful that he will somehow be allowed into Canada.
"We hope that the government will not change the border, but just its definition of family," Campbell said. "We just want to be able to be together while we're working through this really difficult time."