Mother in India desperate for travel exemption to see critically injured son in Sunnybrook ICU

·5 min read
Vinayak Joshii and his mother Poonam Joshii in a photo submitted by the family. (Submitted by Joshii Family - image credit)
Vinayak Joshii and his mother Poonam Joshii in a photo submitted by the family. (Submitted by Joshii Family - image credit)

Poonam Joshii's only wish is to see her son again.

Her family in India is desperately trying to get her to Toronto to see her son Vinayak, who remains in intensive care at Sunnybrook Hospital after he was struck by a car on May 22. But travel restrictions due to COVID-19 are making it nearly impossible, as her visa application remains in limbo.

"I beg all of the authorities, please, I just want them to make me reach my son as soon as possible," she said.

Vinayak Joshii, 20, is an international student living in Scarborough studying mechanical engineering technology at Humber College.

He was waiting in a TTC bus shelter near Don Mills Road and Gateway Boulevard in Toronto when a car slammed into him. He was rushed to Sunnybrook Hospital, where he has remained in the intensive care unit ever since.

His parents, Poonam and Mahesh, are trying everything they can to get his mother an exemption on compassionate grounds to fly to Toronto.

Mother pleading for travel exemption

"I'm praying every day, I just want to be there with him, please help me," a tearful Poonam said with her hands clasped during a Zoom interview Tuesday with CBC News.

The family is receiving help from friends in both countries. Vinayak's friend Chintan Shah has recently been granted visiting access in the ICU, and back in India, his parents are getting assistance from family friend Digish Narang.

"For two days we didn't hear anything," Narang said before Sunnybrook doctors finally reached out to the family.

With broken thigh bones and other serious injuries, Vinayak underwent multiple life-saving surgeries before his family received notice. The operations continued after the family learned he was in critical condition.

"It was a very difficult and tough time for the family," Narang said during the Zoom interview with the family on Tuesday.

Vinayak's relatives say they are very thankful for Sunnybrook's efforts. They just wish government authorities would give them more information.

"The biggest problem we face is the communication problem. There was very little communication because there is no family member there," Narang said.

'I wasn't able to see my son suffering'

With Chintan's help, the parents had their first video conference call with Vinayak a week after the crash.

"I just don't have any words to describe what I was feeling throughout the whole week," Poonam said. "I wasn't able to see my son suffering."

But Vinayak, still recovering, was barely responsive.

Vinayak Joshii and his mother Poonam Joshii in a photo submitted by the family.
Vinayak Joshii and his mother Poonam Joshii in a photo submitted by the family.(Submitted by Joshii Family)

"He responded when I said his name," Poonam said. "It was really terrible to see him suffering so much, I asked him if he's okay, and he said no."

The family has submitted all the necessary documents for a visa application, including a visitor visa application on compassionate grounds, a quarantine exemption, and a Site Visit Authorization Form.

Visa applications to Canada require biometric data. Normally, that would be collected at a visa application centre in India — but those centres are closed as the country tackles its second wave of COVID-19, driven by the delta variant.

It means Poonam's visa application is on indefinite hold until she submits a biometric scan.

"We're waiting on those applications," Narang said. All of the required documents were submitted May 30.

Doctors at Sunnybrook have also sent a letter to the Public Health Agency of Canada asking that the mother be allowed to travel given the unique circumstances.

"Right now, the biggest technicality is the biometrics scan," Narang said. "We're asking the authorities to exempt that requirement or she can give them at Toronto airport."

While the application stalls, the family becomes more distressed.

"Almost a week or so has passed; we're waiting, requesting, again and again: please give us the exemption," Narang said.

"But no one is listening."

Family waiting for response from authorities

The family has reached out to Canada's High Commission to India in New Delhi, the Canadian Ministry of Health and Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

They also wrote to the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa, which replied that their request was forwarded to IRCC.

"The family is ready to bear any cost and submit any documentation, each and every document has been submitted, we're waiting, requesting, again and again, please give us the exemption, but no one is listening," Narang said.

Ajay Bisaria, India's high commissioner to Canada, told CBC News "the parents had reached out to us and we made a special request to the High Commissioner of Canada to India to help them in view of this extraordinary crisis for the family.

"The High Commission acknowledged this and assured they would help. We understand IRCC got in touch with the family but there are some hurdles before a visa is given," Bisaria said.

Consular officials in Toronto are in regular touch with the family, Bisaria added.

CBC reached out to IRCC to check the status of Poonam's application.

"Due to privacy laws, IRCC cannot comment on a case without the applicants' consent," the ministry said in a statement.

IRCC's website says if local visa application centres are closed, it does not want applicants travelling to another city or country to submit biometrics. However, it also states "we won't refuse your application if you can't give biometrics" because visa application centres or application support centres are closed.