A Canadian woman and her Peruvian husband successfully boarded a Canadian repatriation flight out of Peru and landed in Toronto Friday night, after bureaucratic confusion left the couple worried they would be stranded abroad for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have finally made it home safely. It’s a relief that is so great, it’s difficult to describe,” said Elise Craig, after she and her husband Joseph Ruiz Cordova landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
“All the stress that accumulated for weeks and weeks completely dissipated when I saw my brother and mother waiting for us at the exit.”
Up until three days before the flight was scheduled to depart, the couple had no idea whether they would be permitted to board a plane that would bring more than 300 Canadians back from Peru, a country hard hit by the crisis.
Initially, international travel restrictions had meant that Cordova — who is not a Canadian citizen — was denied entry into Canada because his trip was deemed non-essential.
On June 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Ottawa would allow some family members separated by temporary COVID-19 restrictions to cross the border into the country.
That meant that Cordova no longer needed to prove the essential nature of his trip; as the spouse of a Canadian citizen, all he needed was a visitor’s visa.
But attempts to obtain the necessary paperwork proved to be difficult.
Joy was short lived
A day after the federal government announced the changes, Cordova asked Immigration Canada to review his application for a visitor visa. On June 11, the department instead informed Cordova that it could not process his request for an exemption to travel restrictions.
However, under Ottawa’s new rules regarding family reunification, such an exemption was no longer required.
The ordeal felt particularly frustrating given that the MP for Craig’s Toronto riding, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, had previously sent a letter to Immigration Canada urging that Cordova’s visa application should proceed.
“Given the scarcity of international flights and the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in South America, we feel that it is imperative that Mr. Ruiz Cordova and his wife, Ms. Craig, have the chance to board the chartered plane for Canada,” Freeland’s constituency office wrote.
Should not have taken media to change outcome, Craig says
Radio-Canada and CBC News first wrote about the couple’s ordeal earlier this week. On Tuesday, Craig told Radio-Canada that her husband’s visa had finally been approved.
“We would have never gotten here without your story,” she said.
But Craig believes it should not have taken media attention to generate a positive outcome for her family.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s office confirmed to Radio-Canada that a visitor’s visa had been issued to Cordova.
In an email, the minister’s office stated that anyone wishing to travel to Canada, including family members, must be in possession of a valid travel document.
“A visitor visa is only issued on the commitment that the visitor intends to return to their home country on or before the expiry of their visa,” the email read.
Despite the new rules, many visa application centres abroad remain closed. While Immigration Canada is accepting online applications, the department has warned that priority is given to vulnerable people and those who perform essential services.
“I have always found myself lucky to live in a country like Canada,” said Craig, who had been working for a women’s rights defence group in South America for more than a year. “I always believed that Canadian citizens could trust their government. Let’s just say that that ideal has been shaken.”
Clearview AI stops offering facial recognition software in Canada amid privacy probe – CBC.ca
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
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:
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.”
China warns its citizens to exercise caution in travelling to Canada – CBC.ca
China warned its citizens on Monday to exercise caution in travelling to Canada, citing “frequent violent actions” by law enforcement, amid ongoing tensions between Beijing and Ottawa.
The warning, published by the Chinese embassy in China on the WeChat messaging app platform, said Chinese citizens should pay close attention to the local security situation. It did not give specific examples on the violent actions.
In a news conference today, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said Canada had “seriously violated international law and basic norms governing international relations, and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.”
Zhao Lijian said Hong Kong’s affairs are internal Chinese business and other countries have no right to get involved, and China reserves the right to further react.
“China urges the Canadian side to immediately correct its mistakes and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s other internal affairs in any way so as to avoid further damage to China-Canada relations,” Zhao said in a translated transcript posted to the Chinese foreign ministry’s website.
The new security law gives Beijing much tighter control over protests and other forms of dissent in Hong Kong, on the grounds that these activities are outside threats to China’s security.
Last week Canada joined other countries in restricting exports to Hong Kong and complaining that the new law violates the principle of “one country, two systems” that is meant to govern Hong Kong’s place in China.
Canada also suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong.
Trudeau said Canada would look at more measures, potentially including moves related to immigration. Britain, for instance, has created a path to citizenship for Hong Kong residents who have certain documents dating from when it was a British territory, prior to 1997.
Watch: Trudeau says Canada is suspending the extradition treaty with Hong Kong:
Tensions between Canada and China have already been high, with China accusing Canada of malfeasance in detaining high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant and Canada accusing China of arbitrarily detaining Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor since late 2018.
Canadian exports of canola and meat to China have also been obstructed.
Bob Rae, newly tapped as Canada’s next UN ambassador, said Monday that working to get Kovrig and Spavor freed is a top priority.
He said he supports Trudeau’s position that no swap of Meng’s freedom for theirs is reasonable, partly because it would reward China’s behaviour.
‘We have a stake here’: Rae
And he brushed off talk that China will warn its citizens against travelling to Canada.
“I’m a great reader of George Orwell, and I think to really appreciate the world today you have to read ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ Some strange things are going on,” Rae said.
“For some country to suggest that this is a bad time to come to Canada is, frankly, bizarre. They have their own reasons for saying it, I don’t think we should take it entirely seriously. Sometimes humour is a good relief when you’re facing these moments.”
Canada has had a relationship with Hong Kong for centuries, he said, including defending it from Japanese attack in the Second World War.
“We have a stake here and we have interests. We have many Canadians of Hong Kong origin. So it’s not, we’re not meddling in anybody else’s business. We’re talking about our business, our relationships, which are important to us, and we shouldn’t shy away from expressing those thoughts,” Rae said.
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