In March, Canada closed all its international borders in response to COVID-19. While this was put in place to protect Canadians, it has also hurt many of them with international families and partners. One of those Canadians is Sarah Campbell. Sarah Campbell’s fiancé lives in the United Kingdom. They were due to be married in June, but because of travel restrictions, they had to cancel their wedding. Currently, only married or common-law partners (who have lived together for at least a year) of Canadians can enter Canada. Unfortunately, Sarah’s fiancé, Jacob, wouldn’t qualify.
As a dual Canadian-UK citizen, Sarah planned to fly over to the UK to get married there instead. But by the end of June, she felt a lump in her neck. After many doctor appointments, it was revealed that she had Stage 2 thyroid cancer. “I didn’t know what to say after the doctor told me,” Sarah shares. “I was on a video call to Jacob at the time. I just kept saying ‘Okay. Okay. Okay.’ My first thoughts were ‘Oh God, am I going to die? What if I never see Jacob again?’ I was shaking my head at Jacob. He typed furiously and when I was finally able to type just the words ‘It’s bad,’ he looked like he’d been punched in the gut. I felt every emotion and no emotion. It was like an insurmountable, black wave was crashing over my head and I couldn’t breathe. I have cancer. I have cancer. The thought just stuck inside my head, playing on repeat like a sick dream. I sat on the edge of my bed after we hung up our video call and just screamed until my voice shook.”
Filled with panic at the thought of her fiancé not being by her side during her cancer treatment, she immediately reached out to government officials and the media for help. Sarah says, “After the diagnosis, I amped everything up tenfold. I contacted my local Member of Parliament yet again. I relentlessly emailed Bill Blair’s [The Minister of Public Safety who is in charge of border exemptions] office with no response. Jacob and I contacted the London High Commission, the British Consulate, CBSA and IRCC with no luck. There were two issues. Jacob was not my spouse or common-law partner, and his travel was deemed ‘non-essential.’”
Sarah continues, “My MP, John Nater, stood up for me in Parliament, asking Bill Blair to his face about my situation. Blair dodged the question and provided no exemption, not even in a follow-up email to Nater’s office. My tweeting intensified but I was done with the emails. I began handwriting letters mid-July, certain that once they saw the efforts of my letters they would respond to me. 102 letters in, and I’ve only received one standardized response from a deputy officer from the Ministry of Health. Blair has not responded.”
Not only has she been advocating for herself and Jacob, but she’s also been advocating for the thousands of families and couples separated due to the narrow definition of family in the exemption. She has been working diligently with an online advocacy group known as Faces of Advocacy. [bf_image id="q84q9b-l7f0w-3rk0bg"]
Currently, she has been in over fifteen news pieces and has garnered support from many politicians. Despite this, the government still hasn’t provided exemptions for unmarried couples. “The government’s response has been slow, apathetic, lazy and uncaring. This is a time-sensitive issue for many people -- including myself. My cancer treatment doesn’t wait around, so the length of time it has taken to provide a simple exemption is unacceptable. Indeed, I use the word simple because many countries have modeled that it truly can be simple (ie a signed affidavit),” Sarah expresses. Many countries, like Denmark and Germany, are using a signed-affidavit system that allows couples to reunite.
When asked about the mental trauma of this situation, Sarah says, “I’m not sure if I can explain the mental trauma that has been born out of this hellfire of a pandemic. I am a person who has previously struggled with medically diagnosed and treated panic disorder and chronic travel anxiety. Before my [thyroid] surgery, I had nightmares where I never got to see Jacob again. I would wake up covered in sweat, terrified that something would go wrong in the surgery and I would not be able to hug him or kiss him ever again. There were several nights I had to take my anxiety medication--typically only used these days for traveling--just to sleep. Your body stores trauma; it’s a medically proven fact that I learned studying psychoanalysis in grad school. Every day that comes by that marks another month apart from Jacob is a day where I am irritable, anxious, upset over minute details, emotional, and not really able to function well. I have not been able to go back to work because of the [cancer] treatment so I have a lot of time where I sit at home, thoughts brewing in my head like a poison, feeling every single day and hour of our separation.”
In spite of battling cancer without her fiancé by her side, Sarah has remained positive. When asked what keeps her going, Sara candidly expresses, “In a word, love. I am grateful that I have a faith community to support me and my own faith has helped me through this time as well. My parents are amazing and have taken care of me every step of the way. But they’re not Jacob and they can’t replace him. The love I have for Jacob has only grown, when I thought I couldn’t possibly love him more the earth gave way and I found myself falling deeper in love with him than ever before. This terrible and cavernous separation that has loomed between us has only made us more certain of the fact that we are meant to live this life together. In the annals of history, one thing has created and ended wars, killed and brought to life, begun religions and carried people out of the depths of despair: love. Love never ends and never fails. If I had to go back and endure all of these last 7 months without him again, the cancer, everything if it meant I would be in his arms again, I would do it. It is worth fighting for. Jacob is worth fighting for. Love is worth fighting for.”