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He's from Rwanda, she's from Canada. This married couple has never spent a Christmas together — until now –



Emily Knope never once questioned if it was worth it.

Despite being more than 11,000 kilometres away from the love of her life, having to communicate over a crackly phone connection and repeated failed attempts to bring him to Canada, she knew almost from the start that they had to be together.

Ben Tuyisenge never doubted it either. Within three dates, he says he knew the two had something special.

“We didn’t know at the time that we were going to get married and end up together. But we had to try,” Knope said.

The question was: How?

Knope, 25, is from Toronto; Tuyisenge, 31, is from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. The pair met in 2015 while Knope was travelling in East Africa during a semester off from university. And within the span of just a few weeks they knew they were falling in love.

Tuyisenge and Knope met in Rwanda in 2015. They knew almost instantly that they had to be together. (Submitted by Emily Knope)

“It seemed crazy because we were from two different countries and what felt like two different worlds,” Knope said. But as she prepared to head back home, she and Tuyisenge decided they were going to try to make it work long distance, across oceans.

‘We knew there was something serious there’

Over the next several months, the couple kept in touch by phone, email, text and Facetime — anything to make the distance feel shorter.

“It was hard, but because we knew there was something serious there, we kept trying,” Tuyisenge said. “We were prepared mentally for that. We always knew that anything that comes and challenges our relationship builds it and gives us more reasons to be together.”

Knope was in university at the time and each time she’d get a break, she would fly to Rwanda — sometimes for months at a time. The flight alone averages $1,300. 

It’s a horrible feeling when you’ve been through something as traumatic as the genocide.– Emily Knope

But when it came to Tuyisenge coming to Canada, that wasn’t an option, the couple learned. The first time they tried to apply for a visitor’s visa around Christmas 2016, they were denied.

Among the reasons: Tuyisenge’s lack of family ties in his home country.

There’s a reason for that, Tuyisenge says. He lost his mother and much of his family during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. His father survived but died soon after. In the months afterward, Tuyinsenge, still a child, made it to a refugee camp near Congo, where he became separated from his younger brother. His older brother, the eldest of the three, eventually settled in the United States. 

But for Tuyisenge, the people he called family in Rwanda were mostly his closest friends — something the Canadian government considered a red flag.

“It’s a horrible feeling when you’ve been through something as traumatic as the genocide … losing your parents, losing connection with your brothers, losing aunts and uncles and then almost having to defend it, saying, ‘No, but I am a good person and you should accept me,'” said Knope.

“It made me feel like I was worthless,” Tusiyenge recalled.

Married but denied again

The next Christmas, the pair tried for a visitor’s visa again. By then they were engaged to be married. 

But once again Tuyisenge was denied. 

The following spring, Knope returned to Rwanda — this time with her family in tow. She and Tuyisenge were married there on May 18, 2018. Surely now he could move to Canada so that they could build a life together.

Knope and Tuyisenge were married in Rwanda on May 18, 2018. The hoped he could come to Canada so they could build a life together. (Hervé Irankunda)

At least that’s what they thought.

Then came the crushing news: Tusiyenge was denied a third time. 

“That was really heartbreaking,” he said, recalling the experience. “I’m not allowed to travel because I don’t have my family members…. It was like being an orphan became another problem.”

Each rejection became a reminder of his childhood trauma, feeding a fear that his future would forever be dictated by it. 

“You blame yourself,” Tuyisenge said. “When you go through that, there’s always those moments where you think: ‘Maybe I’m not worth living. Why am I still around? Maybe I should have gone with my family.’ Because everyone is treating you differently.”

Knope and Tuyisenge pictured on their honeymoon in Arusha, Tanzania. The pair would have to wait another year and a half before they could be together in Canada. (Submitted by Emily Knope)

In January 2019, the pair decided to try again, this time applying for Tuyisenge to become a permanent resident. 

It took weeks to get their documentation ready, collecting personal emails and taking screenshots of their Facetime conversations, all to make the case to the Canadian government to allow Tuyisenge to join his wife Knope.

A cruel twist 

Then, in a cruel twist, their paperwork was lost.

That meant restarting the process — and months more apart as they waited.

Finally, on a September morning, an email that would change their lives.

Tusiyenge was at work at a non-profit organization in Kigali when an email came from the Canadian government saying he would have to undergo a medical check.

In November, the news they had been waiting for: Tuyisenge had finally been accepted to come to Canada. 

On Dec. 21, just days before Christmas, Tuyisenge arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport after a 21-hour trip, exhausted and nervous — but more than anything, elated. 

Emily Knope and Ben Tuyisenge have spent the holidays apart for the last three years. He was approved to come Canada, just in time for Christmas. 1:19

Knope and her entire family were there waiting, cheering as he walked through the arrivals gate and into her arms.

Overcome with emotion, Tuyisenge says one thought occurred to him in that moment:

“This looks like family, this is what family does… Seeing how happy everyone was, welcoming me, it made me feel like even though my family passed away, I still have another family,” he said. 

‘I felt like I was coming home’

“Some of them you’ve never met but when you see their faces, how happy they are, hugging you, it’s another level of humanity.

“I felt like I was coming home … even though it was my first time being there.”

Through it all, Knope says, the pair have learned about patience, love and what matters most.

“To me, he has always been worth it.… We got through it together and it really did make us stronger.”

For Christmas, the pair say they haven’t planned much. On the agenda: taking it slow, spending as much time as possible with family.

Tuyisenge is also slowly adjusting to the cold and getting acquainted with life in a brand new city. 

“Putting on all those layers, I feel like I’m heavy, almost like I’m congested?” he says with a laugh.

“I’m like a kid, looking around…. Everything is different.”

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada – 95.7 News



The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):

10:35 a.m.

Ontario says there are 2,655 new cases of COVID-19 in the province today and 89 more deaths linked to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says 925 of the new cases are in Toronto, 473 are in Peel Region and 226 are in York Region.

Nearly 14,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered since Ontario’s last daily update.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Feds deny Ottawa Somali centre funding claiming it's not Black enough –



Leaders of a Somali organization in Ottawa say their relationship with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has been severely damaged after the department rejected its funding application by arguing it’s not Black enough.

“At this day and age, to come across something like that was very, very, very shock[ing] and somewhat uncalled for,” said Mohamoud Hagi-Aden, one of the founders of the Somali Centre for Family Services. The centre is among hundreds of organizations the government rejected, claiming they failed to meet its Black leadership criteria. 

Hagi-Aden said he was in disbelief when he read the rejection letter, which claimed his organization was not sufficiently led by Black people. The centre’s founders, management and board are all of Somali background, according to the centre.

“The people who have been making these decisions [are] either from another planet, or they’re not from the [Black] community,” he said.

The letter recently sent by my department to unsuccessful applicants for funding was completely unacceptable.– Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen

Executive director Abdirizak Karod applied last summer for the federal funding, called the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative, after learning it was for Black groups looking to improve their work and community spaces. He said he wanted to use the funding to buy laptops for clients so they can access services and training remotely, as well as refurbishing the organization’s 28-year-old office building.

The funding guidelines say the groups must be focused on serving Black communities, and that at least two-thirds of the leadership and governance structure must be made up of people who self-identify as Black. 

“I got an email saying our organization is not a Black-led organization,” Karod said. “I didn’t believe that what I [saw]. And believe me, I read it three times.” 

Abdirizak Karod applied for the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative funding last summer. His application was rejected this month. (Somali Centre for Family Services/Facebook)

A letter to the centre dated Jan. 12 states that “information provided did not meet this eligibility criteria or was insufficient to clearly demonstrate that the organization is led and governed by people who self-identify as Black.”

A second letter was sent the next day to correct the first letter. It said the group was rejected because “ESDC did not receive the information required to move forward with your application.”

“They never tell us why we got rejected. They never tell us anything,” Karod said, explaining how he answered all the questions on the application. 

“How we can trust this department again?” he asked. “I can’t trust them…. It was not an honest mistake.”

Letter ‘completely unacceptable’: Minister

ESDC declined an interview with CBC News, pointing instead to the minister’s Twitter thread.

“The letter recently sent by my department to unsuccessful applicants for funding was completely unacceptable,” Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen tweeted. “As soon as it was presented to me, I quickly demanded a retraction and met with my officials to discuss how such a mistake could have happened in the first place.”

Hussen, who was born in Somalia, said he will “make sure it never happens again,” and vowed to work with Black-led organizations to improve.

But the statement isn’t good enough, according to Hagi-Aden.

“How will [ESDC] repair the damage they’ve done to the Black community? We have so many barriers and so many difficulties,” he said. “The trust that we had in the system has been so severely damaged.”

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Feds on defensive as no Pfizer vaccine shipment arriving next week – CTV News



Canada will not be receiving any shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses next week, which the federal government says will be the hardest hit the country gets during a month-long shortage in deliveries from the drug giant.

The news Canada will be experiencing a “temporary” delay in shipments resulting in an average weekly reduction of 50 per cent of coming doses due to the pharmaceutical company’s expansion plans at its European manufacturing facility came on Friday. 

On Tuesday, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout revealed that in reality, while this week’s shipment includes 82 per cent of what was originally planned, next week no new deliveries of doses will be coming to this country.

That means over the next two weeks Canada is set to receive just over 171,000 vaccine doses instead of the more than 417,000 planned before Pfizer announced its delay.

“Next week’s deliveries have been deferred by Pfizer in their entirety,” Fortin said, adding that the company just confirmed the amounts Tuesday morning. He said deliveries will start back up in the first two weeks of February.

“But those numbers remain to be confirmed by Pfizer Canada,” Fortin said, adding that because the shipments come in trays with 975 doses, some provinces will feel the impact more than others, but the federal government will strive to keep the future allotments as proportional per capita as possible. 

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in an interview on CTV’s Power Play that Canada is still waiting for the future delivery schedule from Pfizer.

The shipment shortage has strained provincial rollout campaigns— plans are being made to hold off on giving first doses to more people and to delay the administration of second doses for some—and has put the federal government on the defensive.

In his Rideau Cottage address on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to reassure people about having access to considerably fewer Pfizer shots over the next few weeks, saying that “doses are coming,” and vaccinations for long-term care home residents and health-care workers continue.

Trudeau said he knows there is “a lot of work still to do,” but the overall goal of vaccinating six million prioritized people by March, and then everyone who wants to be by the end of September 2021, remains on track despite this “roadblock.”

Asked why he hasn’t tried to put more direct political pressure himself on Pfizer to rectify Canada’s complete absence of doses next week, Trudeau said the company remains contractually obligated to provide Canada with the doses purchased.

The federal government also faced questions about why it appears Pfizer is not treating all countries equally as promised when it comes to scaling back the size of shipments, with some European countries reporting their deliveries will not be as severely impacted as Canada’s.

Neither Trudeau or Anand could offer an explanation, with the prime minister stating that in his weekend call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel she too raised that she was being criticized for her country’s rollout.

“She sort of complained to me that every day she gets it from the German media that they’re not doing as well as Canada. I think a lot of people are comparing stories from country to country, and trying to figure out how we can all move quicker,” Trudeau said.

According to CTV News’ vaccine tracker, Canada is immunizing people faster than Germany by a small margin. 

Anand said the situation with Pfizer’s delay is “very disappointing,” and she “spent the weekend on the phone with Pfizer executives,” pushing for Canada to return to the regular delivery schedule as soon as possible.

She said Canada “insisted” on equitable treatment, which she said Pfizer assured her Canada is receiving.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday he was “very angry” about the situation and if it was up to him, he’d be “on that phone call every single day,” with Pfizer. He then floated that in the interim, President-Elect Joe Biden should send Canada one million doses from the U.S.-based Pfizer facility, which is not experiencing delays.

Anand said Tuesday in response to Ford’s suggestion that all the vaccines being made at the U.S. plant will be distributed within Canada but she will “continue to press all levers.” 

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period that aired on Sunday, Anand said she’d heard concerns from some vaccine companies about lengthy delays between vaccine doses, as they go beyond what their clinical-trial-based recommendations are. 

In an email, Pfizer said some provinces decision to delay the administration of their second doses was not a factor in the current delivery schedule for Canada, stating that the decision to scale-up at the Belgium plant is so that by the end of 2021 the pharmaceutical giant can deliver 2 billion doses worldwide.

“Pfizer is working closely with all Governments on allocation of doses.  While the precise percentage allocation may fluctuate, we anticipate that it will balance out by the end of Q1 2021. Pfizer remains dedicated to helping each country meet the vaccination needs of its citizens without compromising our highest safety and quality standards,” said spokesperson Christina Antoniou. 

Canada was planning on receiving between 124,800 and 366,600 Pfizer doses every week between now and the end of February, as part of the plan to have six million doses total from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of March when Phase 1 ends. Officials continue to state that once next week passes, deliveries will ramp-up and make up for the loss with larger batches arriving.

Fortin said Tuesday that Canada’s Moderna deliveries will continue as planned. These vaccines are delivered in a three week cycle, with the next shipment of 230,400 doses coming the first week of February.

Anand said come the spring Canadians will see a “dramatic increase in vaccine deliveries,” but cautioned about “additional supply challenges along the way.”

“This is precisely why we have multiple agreements in place with multiple manufacturers,” Anand said.

In a statement, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he is “deeply frustrated by the government’s on-going failure to procure and deliver vaccines for Canadians.”

He is calling on the Liberals to deliver an “emergency plan,” and disclose Canada’s precedence in comparison to other countries’ vaccine delivery contracts.

“We cannot accept this kind of failure, not with so much at stake,” O’Toole said. 

So far, more than 604,000 Canadians have received their first dose of one of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines, and nearly 37,200 have received both shots required in the two-dose regimen.

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