Some families in Montreal are denouncing what they say are unthinkable, months-long processing delays for their spousal immigration applications.
Dozens of Montrealers took to the streets Saturday afternoon as thousands of families across the country have been left in limbo since March, waiting for a response or update in their family sponsorship applications. They're calling on the government to grant temporary visas.
Last month, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told CBC News that many visa application centres have been temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, delaying the processing of applications.
Marie Carmel Bien-Aimé was one of about 100 protesters who stood outside the Immigration and Citizenship Canada office on Saint-Antoine Street.
She hasn't seen her husband in person for the last nine months, despite getting married in Nigeria nearly two years ago.
Bien-Aimé is unable to leave Montreal because she's raising children from a previous marriage. The couple had decided it would be best for her husband to move to Canada. She said they submitted the sponsorship application in May 2019 but haven't received a single update from the government.
"It's hard on both of us. Our families are deeply affected by this," she said.
Bien-Aimé said the stress of the situation has caused her to lose sleep and she's developed eating problems.
"There's a five hour difference between me and him, so when I wake up half his day is done," she said.
She was supposed to visit her husband in May but pandemic-related travel restrictions forced her to delay the trip.
The couple tried to obtain a temporary resident visa for him, but that application was denied based on article 179 b of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations — a section that states one of the conditions for granting a temporary visa is that the officer must believe the applicant will leave the country once it has expired.
Protesters are calling for the abolition of that section, saying the government uses it to deny applications too often.
"They don't think [my husband is] going to go back home because of lack of travel history and because of family ties in Canada," said Bien-Aimé.
"But the thing is, who in their right mind would jeopardize their application by overstaying in Canada? Nobody in their right mind would do that."
Bien-Aimé said her husband enjoys his life back home in Nigeria and would have no reason to stay in Canada after his visa expires.
"My husband is happy where he lives, it's just that I'm here," she said. "I just want to be with my husband."
Misha Pelletier, who helped organize the protest, has also been separated from her husband because of current processing delays. She has not seen him since April 2019.
"It's very hard to speak to him through FaceTime. I miss him. I miss his touch, I miss the sound of his voice," she said.
"We had a family life here in Quebec and it's been taken away from us."
Pelletier's eight-year-old son, Santino, has also been waiting impatiently for the day he will be reunited with his stepfather.
"I miss him a lot," he said.
Pelletier met her husband three years ago in Quebec. They married in Tunisia in July 2018. His Canadian visa expired a little less than a year later and the couple have been separated ever since.
"I feel that they're not treating immigration equally. I mean, they have students basically coming with express visas, as well as temporary workers," she said. "I feel like we're at the bottom of the list."
Similar protests were also held in other cities across the country this weekend, including in Ottawa, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
In response to the protests, the IRCC said it is continuing to accept and process applications and will "find an innovative and compassionate way to reunite families," while respecting public health guidelines.