American Charles Emch and his Canadian partner Danielle Larocque — who's dying of cancer — were separated by border restrictions due to COVID-19, but about nine hours after CBC News reported their story, they say they'll soon be reunited.
Larocque, 67, has terminal uterine cancer and has been told she has less than a year to live. Her one wish was to reunite with her American fiancé before it was too late. "I really, really miss him," said Larocque, who lives in Ottawa.
The couple doesn't have the typical required documentation to prove their common-law status that would allow Emch, who is 81 and lives in Pompano Beach, Fla., to come to Canada. So Larocque's family compiled evidence of the couple's relationship, including photos, a shared phone bill and a written history of their time together since 2015.
On Monday, Emch showed up at the border with the documents, which included his quarantine plan and Larocque's medical records.
He said it was enough to convince a border office to allow him to enter Canada. "I was elated," he said. "We have hopes that we are going to be able to spend some quality time together." Emch will see Larocque in two weeks after he finishes his two-week quarantine at an Airbnb rental.
"It was a total roll of the dice," said Tara Vidosa, Larocque's daughter. "I really think [Emch] just got, like, a very down to earth, compassionate agent.
"Perhaps the agent saw the [CBC News] article this morning," she added.
The couple had been kept apart because of border restrictions implemented to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Canada has banned foreigners from entering the country 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 Larocque is unable to fly due to her ill health.
The couple had daily Facetime calls, but wanted to be together in person.
"It's important that I come now," said Emch, "because of how fragile her life is."
The common-law conundrum
But Larocque and Emch didn't believe they fit the criteria.
To qualify as common-law, couples must have lived together for at least one year and have documentation to prove it, such as a lease or mortgage agreement that shows a shared address.
Larocque and Emch said they've been together for five years, but have split their time between each of their own homes in Ottawa and Pompano Beach, so they don't have paperwork showing a shared residence.
The couple did get engaged — by phone — earlier this month, but they can't get married until they're reunited.
Fighting for a solution
Heartbroken and outraged by her mother's situation, Vidosa earlier this month contacted Larocque's MP, Liberal Marie-France Lalonde, requesting a special exemption for Emch to enter Canada.
Lalonde told CBC News last week that she was trying to help the couple.
"Unfortunately, this couple does not exactly fit the definition of ... common-law," she said. "I really would like to find a solution and I believe our government will try to find a solution."
But a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair gave no indication that the government was working on a solution.
"Our hearts are with Ms. Larocque during this unimaginably difficult time," said the spokesperson in an email to CBC News last week. The email went on to explain that Canada's stringent travel restrictions are necessary "to keep Canadians safe."
Government reviewing immediate family definition
Vidosa is thrilled that Emch will soon be reunited with her mother, but says her work isn't done because she wants the federal government to revise its rules so that more families separated by the closed Canadian border can be reunited.
"It's absolutely heartbreaking what's happening, so we're going to keep fighting the good fight."
Watch | Son and mother kept apart by U.S.-Canada border restrictions:
The grassroots group Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border — which includes hundreds of separated family members — has been lobbying the government since June to expand its immediate family exemptions to include all committed partners and adult children. Currently, only dependent children qualify.
"Even as an adult child, if I was living in the states, I couldn't come see my mom in her last days," said Vidosa. "I would flip."
The Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC News it's currently reviewing its definition of immediate family, while still keeping in mind the risks posed by international travel during the pandemic.