Lynda Fort said Christmas won’t be same this year without her 15-year-old son Liam.
Fort is a Canadian citizen, but she has spent the last 16 years in New Zealand where she had two children, Liam and 11-year-old Rhea, with her husband Adam, a citizen of New Zealand.
Fort, who earned a teaching degree from the University of B.C. before she left the country, said the family recently decided to return to Canada to live to be closer to family and friends.
Because of her pride in her Canadian citizenship, Fort decided years ago to ensure Liam and Rhea also became Canadian citizens, which was fairly easy as she was a Canadian, and they received citizenship cards in 2012 in a relatively simple application process.
It was decided that Fort and Rhea would come to Canada first to allow Fort time to get a job, find a place to live and establish herself before her husband and son joined them.
She applied and received Canadian passports while in New Zealand to allow herself and Rhea to travel to Canada in June, but never thought at the time to get a passport for Liam, which she figured could be easily dealt with at a later date.
Fort said she started the process of getting Liam a Canadian passport to have him here by Christmas in late summer, but immediately began facing bureaucratic stumbling blocks.
After filling out application forms in Nanaimo’s Service Canada Centre, she was informed that Liam’s actual Canadian citizenship card was required, not just the number, so that had to be sent from New Zealand.
Once Liam’s citizenship card finally arrived weeks later and Fort tried to apply for a passport again, this time at Duncan’s Service Canada Centre, she was told her marriage certificate was required, and that had to sent from New Zealand as well.
That arrived several weeks later, but when Fort made her third attempt to get Liam a passport, she was told that the picture she had of Liam didn’t have it’s border trimmed and, because it was officially signed on the back, it couldn’t be trimmed to use for the passport.
Fort said she was very frustrated at that point and she and Adam decided that Liam would travel to Canada with his New Zealand passport and a $4,000 plane ticket was purchased for him that would have seen him land on Vancouver Island on Dec. 23.
But Canadian authorities rejected that plan as they said Liam couldn’t enter Canada with a New Zealand passport as he is a Canadian citizen.
Fort said, with just weeks to go before Liam was scheduled to fly, she restarted her efforts to attain a Canadian passport for him and had to take a day off work to travel to Victoria to expedite the process.
Once there, she received the crushing news that due to the circumstances, Liam had to actually be in the country to apply for a passport.
“As I went through this process, it became clear to me that there are no connections or cross referencing between the several offices I went to to try to get Liam’s passport,” Fort said.
“With all I know now, I really regret Liam getting Canadian citizenship. I don’t feel like I’m in the same Canada that I left 16 years ago. I just want to have my son here with me and Rhea for Christmas. We thought we could live a normal life when we returned here, but all we’ve seen so far is red tape. This has been a frustrating and expensive experience for my family.”
A spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in an email that, due to privacy laws, the IRCC is unable to provide the details of individual cases without a signed consent form from those in their system who are raising the concerns.
Alistair MacGregor, the NDP MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, said Fort contacted his office with her concerns about two weeks ago, before her situation had reached the current crisis point.
He said he’ll have his office reach out to her and lend whatever assistance it can.
“Issues with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada are among the top three that my office deals with on a regular basis, and I‘ve spent years myself working with these concerns when I worked with (former MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan) Jean Crowder’s office,” MacGregor said.
“Workers with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada sometimes just see the file and name in front of them and can be disconnected from the real human story in front of them, as in this case.”
MacGregor said the Canadian High Commissioner in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, is there for Canadians who need this kind of assistance.
“The high commission has the ability to expedite paperwork in emergencies like this, and I’ll have my office contact them to see what can be done to help this family,” he said.