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Canadian woman dying of cancer can’t reunite with American fiancé due to COVID-19 restrictions

It’s a heartbreaking story.

Canadian Danielle Larocque has terminal uterine cancer. Her one wish is to reunite with her American fiancé, Charles Emch, before it’s too late.

“I really, really miss him,” said Larocque, 67, who lives in Ottawa. “I have been told I have less than a year [to live].

We’re hoping if he can make it here, that I can end my life with him.”

But the couple remains apart. That’s because, to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Canada has banned foreigners from entering 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 can’t, due to her ill health. 

That leaves daily Facetime calls as the couple’s only solace.

“We want to be together,” said Emch, 81, who lives in Pompano Beach, Fla. He said he will take a COVID-19 test and is fully prepared to self-isolate for 14 days — if Canada would just let him in. 

“It’s important that I come now … because of how fragile her life is.”

The common-law conundrum

Canada’s travel restrictions have caused heartache for many cross border couples who remain separated during the pandemic. 

The federal government recently revised its rules to allow foreigners to visit immediate family in Canada, including spouses and common-law partners.

But that doesn’t help unmarried couples like Larocque and Emch, who can’t meet the criteria. 

“It makes me sad because of the situation I’m in,” said Larocque.

Danielle Larocque and her American partner, Charles Emch, don’t have the documentation to show they’ve lived at the same address. (submitted by Tara Vidosa)

To qualify as common-law, couples must have lived together for at least one year and prove it with documentation showing a shared residence. 

Larocque and Emch say they have been together for five years, but have split their time between each of their own homes in Ottawa and Pompano Beach — so they have no paperwork showing a shared address. 

The couple did get engaged — by phone — earlier this month, but they can’t get married until they’re reunited. 

“I’m heartbroken, I’m outraged,” said Larocque’s daughter, Tara Vidosa, about her mother’s situation.

Vidosa lives in Montreal, but is currently visiting Larocque in Ottawa. She said her mother’s health is deteriorating. 

“For her to enjoy any quality time with Charles,” he has to come soon, she said.

Fighting for a solution

Earlier this month, Vidosa contaced Larocque’s MP, Liberal Marie-France Lalonde, requesting a special exemption for Emch to enter Canada. 

Lalonde told CBC News she’s trying to help the couple. 

“I’m very sad,” 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 is working on a solution. 

“Our hearts are with Ms. Larocque during this unimaginably difficult time,” said the spokesperson in an email to CBC News. The email went on to explain that Canada’s stringent travel restrictions are necessary “to keep Canadians safe.”

Danielle Larocque and her daughter, Tara Vidosa. (submitted by Tara Vidosa)

The response hasn’t deterred Vidosa who plans to continue the fight to reunite her mother with her fiancé. 

Vidosa wants the government to widen its list of who qualifies for immediate family exemptions to enter Canada. That would help not only her mother, but also the many other Canadians still separated from their loved ones, she said.

“It doesn’t really make sense that in 2020, in Canada, we define immediate family with such a narrow definition.”

Government reviewing immediate family definition

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.”

Earlier this month, CBC News reported the plight of American Timothy Martin House who lives in New York City. As an adult child, he can’t cross the border to visit his sick, 85-year-old mother in Toronto.

“You should be by your mother’s side at this stage, and I can’t get over there,” said Martin, 61.

Watch | Son and mother kept apart by U.S.-Canada border restrictions:

Families across the country have been divided by the unprecedented border closures. That’s why many were relieved when restrictions were lifted for immediate family members in early June. But many are now shocked as they realize they still don’t qualify. 2:06

The Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC News it’s aware of concerns raised by family members still separated from their loved ones. 

As a result, the agency said it’s reviewing its definition of immediate family, while still keeping in mind the risks posed by international travel during the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Larocque is waiting to see if a resolution comes quickly enough for her to reunite with her fiancé, Emch. She would also like to get married, but says that’s not her top priority.

“Right now, the only plan we have is trying to see each other.”

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