This couple can’t be together in Canada because of COVID-19, so they’re moving to Serbia

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TORONTO —
She lives on an island where COVID-19 has never been detected. He lives on an island where every case has been resolved.

And because their countries’ border restrictions prevent either of them from travelling to the other’s home, they’re planning to meet up on another continent, in a nation where they don’t speak the language or have any ties and the novel coronavirus is a much more pressing concern.

“It seems crazy in my mind, for him to be leaving an island in the Caribbean … where there’s no COVID. I’m leaving our other island in Eastern Canada where there’s also no COVID, and here we go off, leaving our safe havens … and off we go to Europe for I don’t know how long,” Carly Fleet told CTVNews.ca vin a phone call on Monday from Grand Manan, N.B.

None of New Brunswick’s 165 COVID-19 cases have been traced to Grand Manan, an island in the Bay of Fundy. Grenada’s 23 patients have all recovered. But travel restrictions in both countries mean neither Fleet nor her common-law partner Sean Bodden can visit the other.

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They were last together in late February, weeks before the pandemic disrupted global travel and Grenada shut its borders. Like many Caribbean nations, it delayed its reopening plans after Antigua and Barbuda announced dozens of cases within weeks of letting tourists back in. This means that Fleet, a Canadian citizen, cannot enter the country.

Less clear is what would happen if Bodden tried to get into Canada. Those looking to reunite with Canadian spouses or common-law partners have officially been allowed into the country for about a month, but many couples have reported difficulty getting the non-Canadian partner in, even when they have what they believe to be sufficient proof of their relationship.

The Canada Border Services Agency has said that there are no set criteria for a non-Canadian partner to make it across the border. Instead, individual border guards have the authority to decide who gets in “based on the information available to them at time of processing.”

While Bodden has a lease that shows he and Fleet have been together for longer than one year – meeting the government’s required length for a relationship to count as common-law – their situation is complicated by them having spent some time during that period apart, each in their own countries.

That has Fleet concerned that trying to get her partner into Canada is “like playing Russian roulette,” as she put it, because a border guard could decide they have not been together long enough to qualify.

“We’ve heard so many horror stories of married couples and all sorts of different situations where people have tried it. Some get through; some don’t,” Bodden told CTVNews.ca on Monday in a phone call from Grenada.

BORDER QUESTIONS

If Bodden is denied entry into Canada, it’s not at all clear where he could go next, as his citizenship is Trinidadian, not Grenadian – and neither country has reopened its borders.

“If I do get turned away at the border, I may not be able to get back into Grenada and I definitely will not get back into Trinidad,” he said.

Given the inability to travel between their two coronavirus-free communities, Fleet and Bodden have instead booked plane tickets to a distant land that is reporting hundreds of new COVID-19 cases a day.

On Friday, they will have their long-awaited reunion in Paris. They won’t be staying there, as Trinidad and Tobago is not one of the 14 countries whose citizens are allowed to enter the European Union bloc. Instead, they’ll fly on to Istanbul.

They’ve also booked tickets to take them from Turkey to Belgrade, Serbia, but a recent spike in COVID-19 cases there has led to some restrictions being reimposed. Fleet fears that the situation may worsen by the time her flight arrives.

“I don’t know, by the time Friday rolls around, if we’ll still be able to get into the country,” she said.

Bodden and Fleet are hardly the only half-Canadian couple separated by the border measures. Many of them are in touch with each other online, and Fleet says she’s aware of some in situations she considers worse than hers, including parents being separated from newborn children they have yet to meet and women going through high-risk pregnancies without their partners.

She says she initially understood why the rules were in place to protect public health and could live with that, but recent news that the government is guaranteeing access to professional baseball and hockey players has her wondering why that is doable for athletes but not for couples.

“I can’t stay in a country that’s going to give priority to sports over family,” she said.

“We’re certainly not advocating for open borders. We understand that the safety of Canadian citizens has to be first and foremost. We would just like some exemptions to be made for committed couples and families to be able to reunite.”

‘I’LL DO ANYTHING’

Whether they end up in Serbia, Turkey or Croatia – the very few countries that they say meet their criteria of currently accepting Canadians and Trinidadians, not requiring them to quarantine and being reachable from Paris – Fleet and Bodden will have no local ties, no understanding of the language, no accommodations booked and no idea of how long they’ll stay.

“We just thought ‘If we’re going to be together, we need to do something dramatic,’ so we started looking at countries that … let foreign nationals in,” Fleet said.

“We’ve just kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that we don’t know exactly where we’re headed.”

It isn’t their first choice. They say that since it became clear they wouldn’t be able to spend the summer together in New Brunswick, they’ve been making plan after plan after plan, only to readjust as the pandemic endures and travel restrictions are extended.

With new COVID-19 case rates again accelerating in the Balkans, they expect that Friday may not go exactly as they expect either – but they still expect to reunite in Paris, and will figure out the rest from there.

“We’ve made so many plans in the past and had doors shut in our face that we just keep on trying until we do succeed,” Bodden said.

“I’ll do anything to be with her. I don’t care where it is.”

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