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Canadian-American couple devastated after Canada won't recognize their FaceTime wedding – CBC.ca

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A Canadian-American couple were devastated to discover that Canada won’t recognize their marriage, performed with only the groom present at the wedding while the the bride participated via FaceTime.

“It broke my heart,” said Lauren Pickrell, 35, of Windsor, Ont. She has been separated from her American partner, Mark Maksymiuk, since early March due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

The couple had hoped that by getting married, they could reunite in Canada, which allows American spouses to enter the country.

“I had really high expectations because I felt in my heart that we did everything right,” Pickrell said. 

She and Maksymiuk, 32, were legally married on July 6 and have a valid marriage licence from the state of Kansas. 

The catch is that only Maksymiuk was physically present at the official wedding ceremony in Kansas City, Kan. Pickrell later participated via FaceTime in an informal ceremony for the couple, held at a chapel in neighbouring Kansas City, Mo. Kansas City straddles the two states.

Maksymiuk married Pickrell over FaceTime on July 6 while he was in a wedding chapel in Kansas City, Mo., and she was near Windsor, Ont. Earlier that day, Maksymiuk attended a proxy marriage ceremony in the state of Kansas after obtaining a marriage licence there. (Submitted by Mark Maksymiuk)

U.S. immigration law will recognize marriages in which only the bride or groom was physically present at the ceremony — known as a proxy marriage — once the couple physically unite.

Canada, however, is not on board. Maksymiuk said he discovered this when he tried to enter the country and explained the details of his proxy marriage when questioned by a border officer.

“His exact words were, ‘You know, we don’t view this type of marriage as valid,'” said Maksymiuk, who was denied entry to Canada. “I was crying. I broke down.”

Proxy marriages legal in Kansas

Maksymiuk lives in Royal Oak, Mich., about 26 kilometres from Pickrell’s home in Windsor. Despite the short distance, the couple remain apart.

To help stop the spread of COVID-19, Canada has banned foreigners from entering for non-essential travel. On top of that, the U.S. land border is closed to Canadian visitors. Canadians can still fly to the U.S., but Pickrell said she can’t get enough time off work right now to travel and then self-isolate for two weeks upon her return. 

Canada recently loosened its travel restrictions to allow immediate family to enter, including spouses and common-law partners.

Committed couples who don’t meet the criteria have scrambled for solutions, including marriage — if they can get to the same location.

Henry Chang, a business immigration lawyer in Toronto, says Kansas ended up legalizing proxy marriages by neglecting to spell out in the law who must attend a wedding. Maksymiuk would likely be allowed to enter Canada if he and Pickrell redo their wedding ceremony in the U.S. — together, Chang says. (Submitted by Henry Chang)

Pickrell and Maksymiuk searched for a possible alternative and discovered a little known fact: Couples can legally marry in Kansas in a proxy ceremony. The two decided to give it a shot.

“If you really love someone, you do whatever it takes,” Pickrell said.

Henry Chang, a business immigration lawyer in Toronto, said Kansas wound up legalizing proxy marriages by neglecting to spell out in the law who must attend the wedding. 

“They just forgot to mention that both parties had to be present in order for the ceremony to be legal,” said Chang, a partner with the law firm Dentons.

“Because of that, it’s implied that you can get away with it.”

Groom denied entry into Canada

To seal the deal, Maksymiuk flew to the state of Kansas, where he obtained a marriage licence and attended a proxy ceremony in Kansas City, Kan., set up by Your Magical Day wedding chapel, which specializes in proxy marriages. Your Magical Day then held an informal ceremony for the couple at a nearby chapel in Kansas City, Mo. 

“It’s in a strip mall,” Maksymiuk said. “It almost feels like you’re walking into a doctor’s office, but there’s, like, ribbons and bows and stuff on the wall.”

Pickrell appeared via FaceTime on an iPad. At the time, she was at her job as a kitchen supervisor at a restaurant just outside Windsor. Her boss and co-workers joined her for the ceremony while her family tuned in from Montreal.

“It was perfect,” Pickrell said. “I never wanted to have a big wedding.”

Pickrell is shown on a computer screen as she takes part in her FaceTime wedding on July 6 from her workplace — a restaurant just outside Windsor, Ont. Her boss and co-workers joined her for the ceremony while her family tuned in from Montreal. (Submitted by Mark Maksymiuk)

But things fell apart five days later at the Detroit-Windsor border when Maksymiuk tried to enter Canada and was denied entry.

“It was absolutely devastating,” he said. 

In 2015, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) stopped recognizing proxy marriages unless the bride or groom is a member of the Canadian military.

IRCC told CBC News that it made the change due to concerns that proxy marriages could involve an unwilling spouse who never consented. 

Maksymiuk said the government’s position is frustrating, as he and Pickrell have been in a committed relationship for almost five years.

“It doesn’t seem right or fair.”

What are the options?

Chang, the Toronto lawyer, said Maksymiuk would likely be allowed to enter Canada if he and Pickrell redo their wedding ceremony in the U.S. — together. 

“Unfortunately, that’s the only way to save it.”

Because that’s currently not an option, the couple hopes the federal government will broaden its immediate family exemptions to allow more couples to reunite. 

“It’s a difficult time to be alone, and they need to recognize that,” Pickrell said. “Love is essential and love is not tourism.”

Ever since the government introduced its immediate family exemptions in June, it has faced pressure from separated families and couples who don’t meet the criteria. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC News last week that it’s reviewing its definition of immediate family while still keeping in mind the risks posed by international travel during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Pickrell and Maksymiuk say they have no regrets about their proxy marriage, which allowed them to celebrate their love — albeit remotely.

“It made me really happy,” Pickrell said. “Mark is my husband. No one can tell me different.”

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘RULES ARE CHANGING’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

 

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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UK sanctions Myanmar Gems Enterprise in bid to cut off junta funding

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Britain announced sanctions against state-owned enterprise Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE) on Monday, saying the move would deprive the military junta there of a key source of funding.

The United States and Canada also announced further sanctions against Myanmar, which has been in crisis since the military seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1.

“The designation against MGE will cut off a key source of funding for the military junta, which continues to subvert democracy and is responsible for the violent repression and serious human rights violations against the people of Myanmar, including the killing of children,” the foreign office said in a statement.

Myanmar is the world’s main source of jade, a sought-after stone in China, and a major source of rubies and other rare gems. The United States blacklisted MGE in April.

Britain has previously announced sanctions and asset freezes on other entities and individuals linked to the February coup.

“The military junta in Myanmar continues to crush democracy and attack its own people with brutal ferocity,” foreign minister Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“We are working with our allies to impose sanctions that hit the junta’s access to finance, and deliver a return to democracy.”

 

(Reporting by William James, editing by Andy Bruce)

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U.S. Supreme Court takes up major challenge to abortion rights

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider gutting the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, taking up Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

By hearing the case in their next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2022, the justices will look at whether to overturn a central part of the landmark ruling, a longstanding goal of religious conservatives.

The ruling, expected next year, could allow states to ban the procedure before the fetus is viable outside the womb, upending decades of legal precedent.

In the Roe v. Wade decision, subsequently reaffirmed in 1992, the court said that states could not ban abortion before the viability of the fetus outside the womb, which is generally viewed by doctors as between 24 and 28 weeks. The Mississippi law would ban abortion much earlier than that. Other states have backed laws that would ban the procedure even earlier.

“Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights. The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is among those challenging the law.

The office of Mississippi’s attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Roe v. Wade ruling recognized that a constitutional right to personal privacy protects a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion. The court in its 1992 decision, coming in the case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, reaffirmed the ruling and prohibited laws that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

A CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY

Abortion opponents are hopeful that the Supreme Court will narrow or overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. The court moved from a 5-4 to a 6-3 conservative majority following Senate confirmation last year of Republican former President Donald Trump’s third appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 June 2020 ruling struck down an abortion law in Louisiana that imposed restrictions on doctors who perform the procedure. The late liberal Justice Ruth Bader was still on the court at the time, and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court’s liberal wing in the ruling. Roberts at the time, however, made it clear that he voted the way he did because he felt bound by the court’s 2016 ruling that struck down a similar law in Texas.

The 2018 Mississippi law, like others similar to it passed by Republican-led states, was enacted with full knowledge that was a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

After the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, sued to try to block the measure, a federal judge in 2018 ruled against the state. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion, prompting the state to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions. The law at issue is a ban,” 5th Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States, as in many countries. Christian conservatives are among those most opposed to it. Abortion rates in the United States have steadily declined since the early 1980s, reaching the lowest levels on record in recent years, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

The June 2020 ruling in the Louisiana case marked the court’s first major abortion decision since Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Neil Gorsuch in 2017 as justices. Both voted in favor of Louisiana’s restrictions. If Barrett were to vote on similar lines, conservatives could have a majority to curb abortion rights regardless of how Roberts votes. Trump had promised during the 2016 presidential race to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Mississippi appeal had been pending at the court since June 2020 without the justices taking action on whether or not to hear it. During that time, Ginsburg died and was replaced by Barrett and Trump lost his re-election bid, to be replaced by Democratic President Joe Biden, who supports abortion rights.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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