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

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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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Senegalese diplomat arrested by Quebec police owed former landlord more than $45,000

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MONTREAL — The detention and alleged beating of a Senegalese diplomat by Quebec police last week occurred while a bailiff was attempting to seize property at her residence in connection with a court judgment against her.

Quebec’s rental board in June ordered Oumou Kalsoum Sall to pay a former landlord more than $45,000 for damage to a furnished home she occupied from Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2020. The tribunal found that she caused flooding that led to structural damage and that her use of the property forced its owner, Michel Lemay, to replace most of his furniture.

“The pictures speak for themselves,” Anne A. Laverdure, an administrative judge, wrote in her ruling. “The furniture is full of cockroaches. Pieces of furniture are scratched and scuffed. Some are missing. Everything is dirty.”

Laverdure awarded Lemay almost $13,500 for structural damage to the home and $23,000 to replace furniture. The administrative judge awarded Lemay another several thousand dollars for other damages.

Court records show that the debt was not paid and that a bailiff went to Kalsoum Sall’s residence in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, on Aug. 2 to seize property in connection with the debt.

Kalsoum Sall is a first counsellor at the embassy of the Republic of Senegal in Ottawa, according to a federal government database of foreign delegations. The Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has claimed that the diplomat had to be hospitalized after being handcuffed and beaten by police.

Quebec’s independent police watchdog said Monday it opened an investigation into the incident. Gatineau police have said that they were called to the residence to assist a bailiff and that they arrested a woman with diplomatic status after she allegedly hit a police officer in the face, adding that she was tackled to the ground after allegedly biting another officer.

Global Affairs Canada has described the incident as “unacceptable,” adding that the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — which Canada has signed — gives diplomats immunity from any form of detention or arrest.

Gilles Rivard, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and to Haiti, said that while he doesn’t know exactly what happened during the Aug. 2 incident, some diplomats can be aggressive because they believe there will be no consequences for their actions.

“They can be aggressive because they know that they have immunity, so they believe that they can do whatever they want,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

While police are not officially supposed to arrest a diplomat, Rivard said, it’s possible a police officer might handcuff an individual while they wait to confirm the person’s diplomatic status.

“But if after that, that person shows that she is a diplomat, or he is a diplomat, normally they have to be released,” he said.

In 2001, a Russian diplomat struck and killed a woman while driving in Ottawa. The Canadian government asked Russia to waive the diplomat’s immunity so he could be charged in Canada, but Russia refused, Rivard said, adding that Canada’s only option in that case was to expel the diplomat.

Rivard said he doesn’t think the Aug. 2 incident is serious enough to damage Canada’s very good relationship with Senegal.

The Senegalese Embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday afternoon. A call to the embassy was not answered.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Alberta awards prize to essay that argues women should pick babies over careers

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EDMONTON — Alberta has awarded a prize to an essayist who argues the sexes are not equal and that women should pick babies over careers to avoid the province having to import more foreigners and risk “cultural suicide.”

The United Conservative government removed the essay from its legislature website Tuesday following an outcry of condemnation.

Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk — Alberta’s associate minister for the Status of Women and also the contest organizer and one of the judges — also distanced herself from the entire affair.

“The essay contest was intended to reflect a broad range of opinions from young Alberta women on what democracy means for them,” Armstrong-Homeniuk said in a statement.

“While the essay in question certainly does not represent the views of all women, myself included, the essay in question should not have been chosen.”

Armstrong-Homeniuk was not made available for an interview.

Her office declined to say who else sat on the judging committee and how and why the essay was chosen.

The contest advertised that essays would be judged by Armstrong-Homeniuk and other legislature members but did not specify names.

Armstrong-Homeniuk was appointed to the cabinet post in June but has been the face of the contest since it was introduced in February.

The “Her Vision Inspires” contest challenged women ages 17 to 25 to describe their ideas for a better Alberta.

The top two essays suggest ways to get more women, and the public in general, involved in public life.

The third-place winner — identified only as S. Silver — won a $200 prize to be spent at the legislature gift shop.

Silver’s essay posits that the governing mission of humanity is to reproduce itself, but that Alberta has lost its way to instead pursue “selfish and hedonistic goals.”

The solution, she argues, is to acknowledge that “women are not exactly equal to men.”

Society, she writes, should celebrate and embrace the birthing role of women and stop pushing them to put off prime procreation years while they “break into careers that men traditionally dominate.”

She says the idea that Alberta can put off procreation and instead “import foreigners to replace ourselves … is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide.”

Opposition NDP critic Rakhi Pancholi said Armstrong-Homeniuk owes the public a full explanation of how this view was not condemned but honoured and rewarded.

“Sexism, racism, hate — this is not what any government should be celebrating, yet increasingly these views are becoming acceptable in this UCP government, and even now applauded,” Pancholi told reporters.

Pancholi zeroed in on the “cultural suicide” reference, likening it to 1930s Nazi Germany urging women to be baby vessels to propagate the Aryan race.

“This is an absolutely reprehensible claim. It is a nod to the racist replacement theory that drives white nationalist hate,” she said.

The contest was run through the legislative assembly office, which is headed up by Speaker Nathan Cooper.

Cooper’s office, in a statement, said the contest was conceived and administered by Armstrong-Homeniuk in her role as regional chair of the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentarians group.

“Neither the Speaker’s office nor the legislative assembly office were involved with the selection of the essays in any capacity, including who was on the MLA panel judging the contest,” said the statement.

“As soon as the content of the third-place winner was brought to the Speaker’s attention, he immediately made the decision for the content to be removed.

“The content is abhorrent and does not reflect the views of the Speaker or the legislative assembly office.”

Three candidates in the race to replace Premier Jason Kenney as party leader and premier also took to Twitter to criticize the award.

“It’s a disgrace that an essay saying women are not equal to men won an award sponsored by government. Women, and their contributions, are equally valuable and amazing whether we are moms or not. Can’t believe this needs to be said,” wrote Rebecca Schulz.

Rajan Sawhney followed up, writing, “Agree, Rebecca. Same goes for the comments about ‘foreigners.’ Alberta is the proud home of people from all over the world — from Ukraine, to the Philippines, and everywhere in between.”

Leela Aheer said, “Well, I read 1st and 2nd place (essays). Those were great! I’m not sure how the 3rd essay elevates women.”

Lise Gotell, a women’s and gender studies professor at the University of Alberta, said the essay perpetuates an essentialist, sexist and racist point of view stemming from the long discredited and outdated concept that a women’s role is to reproduce as a bulwark against immigration.

“The fact that it was chosen says a great deal about the views on appropriate gender roles being advanced by this government,” said Gotell in an interview.

“This essay reads like something that quite frankly could’ve been written in the 19th century.”

—  With files from Angela Amato in Edmonton

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2022.

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Two miners trapped in Dominican Republic rescued with help from Canada

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OTTAWA — Defence Minister Anita Anand says two miners who were trapped in an underground mine for 10 days in the Dominican Republic have been rescued with the help of Canada.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Anand said the Royal Canadian Air Force transported mining equipment to Santo Domingo following a request for assistance from the Dominican government.

Two miners with the Dominican Mining Corporation, known as Cormidom, had been trapped since July 31 in an underground mine.

According to a news release from the Dominican Republic Embassy on Saturday, Canada was expected to send over a mining excavation system made up of machines, tools and various rescue technologies.

The statement says the equipment was provided by Machines Roger International, a mining company based in Val-d’Or, Que.

Anand thanked the Royal Canadian Air Force personnel involved in the mission who arrived in the Dominican Republic on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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