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Canadian-American couple forced apart at border after they couldn’t prove common-law status



Canadian Stephen Barkey and American Cathy Kolsch say they’re devastated after being forced apart when they tried to cross the Canada-U.S. border on Monday.

“We don’t know when we’re going to be reunited,” said Barkey, a 65-year-old retired sales rep. “It feels like my whole life has been ripped apart.”

The couple, who had been living together in the U.S., tried to cross the border from North Dakota into Saskatchewan after Canada loosened its travel restrictions to allow immediate family to enter the country. But Kolsch was denied entry to Canada because the couple wasn’t able to prove she is Barkey’s common-law partner.

When they turned back to re-enter the U.S., Barkey was then denied entry because the U.S. land border is now closed to Canadian visitors. Consequently, the couple was forced to separate and return to their respective countries.

“We were screaming and sobbing and pleading,” said Kolsch, a 61-year-old retired paramedic. “It’s inhumane what happened to us.”

Barkey and Kolsch are one of many cross-border couples separated during the pandemic. To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, Canada currently prohibits foreigners from entering the country for non-essential travel.

The federal government loosened the rules on June 8 to allow foreigners to visit immediate family in Canada — including spouses and common-law partners. However, many cross-border couples have been dismayed to discover that their relationship doesn’t qualify.

“We are together. We are common-law,” Kolsch said.


Canadian Steve Barkey and his American partner live in an RV and split their time between Canada and the U.S. before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. (submitted by Cathy Kolsch)


To qualify as common-law, unmarried couples must prove that they’ve lived together for at least one year.

Barkey and Kolsch said they have lived together for a year-and-a-half in their recreational vehicle (RV), mainly splitting their time between Barrie, Ont. and California.

When the pandemic hit and the Canada-U.S. land border closed to non-essential traffic, Barkey stayed in the U.S. with Kolsch. But after the Canadian government revised its travel restrictions, the couple drove their RV to the Saskatchewan border, confident they would qualify as a common-law couple.

Although they came armed with proof of their life together, including receipts for the campgrounds they’ve stayed at, the couple said they didn’t pass the test.

The border officer wanted to see a rental agreement or mortgage documents — which the RV dwellers couldn’t provide, Barkey said.

“We’re being discriminated against because we live in an RV.”

‘We felt like criminals’

The couple’s situation went from bad to worse when they tried to re-enter the U.S., and Barkey was denied entry.

“We were both just holding each other and crying and shaking,” he said.” We felt like criminals.”

Forced to go their separate ways, Barkey drove the RV to a friend’s farm in Grenfell, Sask., to self-isolate for 14 days.

Kolsch was stuck at the North Dakota border, homeless and alone. She said she spent about $1,000 on a taxi, hotel and then a flight two days later to California to stay with friends.

WATCH | ‘Travel bubble’ in Atlantic Canada important to reopening economy:

Atlantic Canadians should be able to travel within the four provinces sometime in early July, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said. Globe and Mail health columnist Andre Picard says such a travel bubble is the logical conclusion to gradually lifting COVID-19 restrictions.  7:49

“We just cry every time we talk to each other,” said Kolsch, who speaks with Barkey by phone multiple times a day. “This is unjust.”

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) told CBC News that foreigners must satisfy border officers that they meet the requirements to enter Canada.

When asked what documents cross-border couples need to provide to prove their common-law status, CBSA couldn’t provide a definitive list. Instead, the agency offered suggestions such as a common-law status certificate or documents showing a shared residential address.

Many couples still separated

No amount of documentation can help David Poon of Regina and his Irish partner, Alexandria Aquino of Dublin. The couple hasn’t lived together long enough to qualify as a common-law couple.

Frustrated by their situation, Poon and Aquino founded the organization Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border. Poon said hundreds of the group’s 1,600 members are still separated from their loved ones, despite Canada loosening the rules for immediate family members.

“As the world gets more scary and more difficult, the one thing they wish is to embrace their partner,” said Poon, a 34-year-old physician.


David Poon of Regina and his Irish partner Alexandria Aquino founded the organization Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border. (submitted by David Poon)


The organization has started a House of Commons petition asking the federal government to allow all committed cross-border couples to reunite in Canada.

“I do not believe the government set out to exclude us,” Poon said. “I believe we have just been lost in the technicalities.”

CBSA said the government understands the challenges cross-border families face during the pandemic but that the current travel restrictions are required to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“These are unprecedented times, and the measures imposed were done so in light of potential public health risks,” CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said in an email.

The Canada-U.S. land border remains closed to non-essential traffic until July 21 and that date may be extended. But Barkey and Kolsch haven’t given up hope they can soon be reunited.

Barkey could fly to the U.S., as the U.S. has only closed its shared land border with Canada. But he’s too afraid to try, concerned he has been flagged after being denied entry. So Kolsch is gathering more documents of their life together, hoping she can convince CBSA that she meets the requirements to join her partner in Canada.

“I should be there with him,” Kolsch said. “I know we qualify as a couple.”

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Canada adds 288 new coronavirus cases as curve continues to flatten –



Canada reported 288 more confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Monday, maintaining a pattern of relatively low daily case counts that has now flattened since late June.

The number was nearly identical to the totals recorded for Saturday and Sunday. Many provinces waited until Monday to report those numbers, taking a weekend break from daily updates.

Read more:
How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

Nine more deaths were reported Monday as well, three of them in Quebec — marking the lowest death toll for the province since April 2. The remaining six were in British Columbia, representing a cumulative total since Friday. One of the deaths occurred in June, but has only now been attributed to COVID-19.

Ontario also reported no new deaths Monday for the first time since the end of March.

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Canada has now seen 105,915 lab-confirmed cases, along with 8,693 deaths. A total of 69,570 cases have since recovered.

Although it didn’t see any new deaths, Ontario still reported 154 new coronavirus cases Monday, and Quebec saw 74 more cases.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Nova Scotia reported one new case, the only Atlantic province to do so Monday.

Read more:
Scientists warn coronavirus could be airborne — What does this mean for Canadians?

Saskatchewan saw three more cases over the past 24 hours, while Manitoba stayed clear of new infections. Alberta added 49 new cases, and British Columbia reported seven.

While the Yukon and Northwest Territories haven’t reported any new cases for over two months now, Nunavut is awaiting confirmation of its first-ever presumptive case, which was reported Thursday.

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All provinces and territories are in the midst of slowly reopening their economies after weeks of shutdowns at the height of the pandemic, which federal modelling suggests remains on a downward trajectory.

Daily totals of new cases have been hovering around 300 for over a week, after spiking past 400 in late June.

We could see a rise in diseases like COVID-19 because of climate change

We could see a rise in diseases like COVID-19 because of climate change

Worldwide, the novel coronavirus pandemic has grown to over 11.5 million confirmed cases and has killed at least 536,000 people, according to public health data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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In the United States, confirmed cases are closing in on three million as cases continue to surge in several states. The country has been reporting an average of 50,000 new cases daily since the end of June.

Researchers and public health officials around the world say the true number of infections is likely far higher due to limitations in testing.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Clearview AI stops offering facial recognition software in Canada amid privacy probe –



Clearview AI, the controversial U.S.-based technology firm, will no longer make its facial recognition software available in Canada. Federal and provincial privacy authorities made the announcement on Monday and then Clearview confirmed it to CBC News. 

A statement issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said Clearview had advised officials of the decision in response to an ongoing investigation by the privacy authorities of Canada, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.

In its announcement Monday, the federal privacy commissioner’s office said the joint investigation into Clearview would remain open and that “authorities still plan to issue findings in this matter given the importance of the issue for the privacy rights of Canadians.”

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That said, ”In response to [the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s] request, Clearview AI has ceased its operations in Canada.”

“We are proud of our record in assisting Canadian law enforcement to solve some of the most heinous crimes, including crimes against children. We will continue to co-operate with [the Office of the Privacy Commissioner] on other related issues.”

Ann Cavoukian, a former Ontario privacy commissioner, called the announcement “great news.”

“This shows that we can indeed make a difference and stop privacy-invasive practices,” said Cavoukian, who now serves as executive director of the Global Privacy and Security by Design in Toronto.

The company first came under scrutiny earlier this year when it boasted about collecting billions of photos from the internet to feed its facial recognition app.

Clearview said the tool is meant to allow police to “identify perpetrators and victims of crimes,” but privacy advocates worried the technology could fall into the wrong hands or lead to a dystopian future in which anyone can be identified within seconds whether they consent to facial recognition or not.

Software used by police forces

Several law enforcement agencies, from the RCMP to Toronto and Calgary police, acknowledged their members had briefly used the software.

Monday’s statement by federal and provincial privacy authorities said the RCMP was “Clearview’s last remaining client in Canada” and that the contract would be suspended indefinitely. A separate investigation into the Mounties’ use of the software would also continue, the federal privacy watchdog said.

RCMP spokesperson Catherine Fortin confirmed the Mounties’ National Child Exploitation Crime Centre “no longer has a license with Clearview AI and has stopped using its software.” She did not indicate exactly when the force ended its use of the app.

WATCH | Canadians’ faces in Clearview AI database:

Facial recognition technology firm won’t allow Canadians to have their data removed 2:38

Another “ongoing issue under investigation by the authorities is the deletion of the personal information of Canadians that Clearview has already collected, as well as the cessation of Clearview’s collection of Canadians’ personal information,” the federal privacy watchdog’s statement said.

CBC News reported in June that while Clearview was offering residents of certain jurisdictions the opportunity to request their data be deleted from the firm’s database, it did not appear Canadians were eligible.

Ton-That told CBC News that Canadians will now “be able to opt out of Clearview’s search results” without specifying how people could do so.

On Monday afternoon, the company’s website still quoted an unnamed “detective constable in the sex crimes unit” of a Canadian law enforcement agency as saying, “Clearview AI is hands-down the best thing that has happened to victim identification in the last 10 years.”

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



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 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.

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 on Monday in a phone call from Grenada.


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.”


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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