This advocate was unable to meet with Bill Blair about his COVID-19 border policies, so he is speaking against him.

As the leader of an advocacy group for Canadians separated from loved ones by the country’s COVID-19 border restrictions, David Edward-Ooi Poon has tried unsuccessfully to schedule a meeting by phone or email with federal Minister of Public Safety Bill. Blair in the past. 18 months.

So when a federal election was called in August, the Toronto family physician thought his chance had come to meet face-to-face with the head of Ottawa’s border control measures.

Born and raised in Regina to Chinese and Malaysian immigrant parents, Poon couldn’t have imagined running for elected office until now.

What motivated you to participate in the race as an independent candidate in Scarborough Southwest riding it was the 12,000 members of Faces of Advocacy and their heartbreaking stories of family separation, depression, helplessness and hopelessness that they say have been ignored.

“I was born of privilege in Canada, and even I felt completely powerless. How can so many people who are not fluent in English or French, who have no access to power, and who feel disenfranchised have any sense of justice or fairness or responsibility if they suffer? “asked Poon.

“If it takes me to run an entire campaign just to be able to talk to Bill Blair face to face, that shows how absurd the system is, that a person needs to run a federal election campaign just to talk to the man who needs to be responsible for those things. Actions “.

Federal Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair during a press conference in Ottawa, Monday, April 20, 2020.

In the wake of the global pandemic, Canada closed its border on March 18, 2020 to non-citizens and non-permanent residents. Although immediate foreign relatives were exempt from the restrictions, family travel had to be “essential and not discretionary”.

As a result, many spouses and partners were detained at the border and sent home, including Poon’s partner, Alexandria Aquino, who arrived at Pearson Airport from Ireland in April 2020 and was barred from entering.

Faces of Advocacy’s volunteer efforts finally culminated in Ottawa easing border restrictions in October for unmarried couples and foreigners with a dying relative in Canada.

Poon said he is still upset that Blair has not spoken to him and his group about the concerns and questions they have raised about COVID-19 border policies separating loved ones.

“What we realized was that there is a lack of government accountability when they make a decision that affects so many Canadian families and they don’t even feel the need to tell us why,” said Poon, 35, who is studying at the University. from Toronto. training in public health.

“We are a disenfranchised group that speaks to power and power refuses to speak to us.”

David Edward-Ooi Poon (left) is running as an independent in Southwest Scarborough against Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

In a statement to the Star, the Blair campaign said the government has taken “significant” and “unprecedented” steps to limit the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the country. Senior advisers from the health, public safety and immigration offices have had regular discussions with Poon throughout, he added.

“We are aware that many people made sacrifices as a result and we recognize the challenges they faced,” said Blair, a former Toronto police chief who was first elected in 2015 on behalf of the Liberals. He was reelected in 2019 with 57.2 percent of the vote.

“But, it was necessary to reduce international travel at the height of the pandemic and before vaccines were widely available as they are now.”

Blair said the government has been transparent about its measures during the pandemic, with frequent updates and detailed information available online. If re-elected, he said, the Liberal government is committed to ensuring the public’s trust in the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) by reintroducing legislation to bring an external review to the agency.

“While the vast majority of CBSA officers perform their duties admirably, we know that there are instances where their conduct will be questioned,” said Blair. “And when that happens, it is important that complaints are considered fairly and impartially.”

David Edward-Ooi Poon (right) and John McCall's campaign in driving South Scarborough.  Poon shows a photograph of the McCall family.  John's children had to say goodbye to their dying mother, Donna, via video due to COVID-19 border restrictions.

John McCall, a Madoc, Ontario resident, member of Faces of Advocacy, was among the people Poon consulted before casting his name on the ballot.

McCall’s wife Donna, a retired ICU nurse, was diagnosed with liver failure early last year, but her adult children, Ian and Meghan, in the US were barred because they did not have a Canadian citizenship certificate even though they were citizens by lineage. Her children ended up saying goodbye to their dying mother in a video call on August 10, 2020.

Poon wanted to compete against Blair on Donna’s behalf and needed McCall’s blessing.

The 68-year-old didn’t hesitate to back his friend and even volunteered to help knock on Poon’s door, driving from his home, which is an hour from Peterborough, to campaign for him in Scarborough.

Wearing a gray campaign t-shirt that read “Vote Poon,” McCall shared the trauma his family went through and asked residents in the driveway to support the Poon platform to establish an independent federal office to ensure transparency and accountability. Government accountability, and advocating for citizens failed because of government policies.

“What I hope is that David raises the profile and shames the ministers who do not recognize the people who are victims of the decisions they make,” said the retired IT consultant.

“We should at least get a straightforward explanation and not be ignored or appeased by some repetitive explanation and emails.”

McCall, who had never volunteered for an election campaign, said it was an enriching experience convincing someone to put his name on the minimum 100 signatures of people in driving that Poon required to participate in the race.

“I find that people listen when they can speak directly to them, no matter what their previous predisposed attitudes are. When he tells his personal story directly face-to-face, people listen, ”McCall said.

“That is why it is very difficult to deal with ministers (of the government) with whom I do not have the opportunity to speak face to face, and they ignore my situation.”

Sean Dillon (right) of Sarnia, Ontario, and his girlfriend Sally, who lives just a 12-minute drive in Port Huron, Michigan.

Poon’s campaign manager, Sean Dillon, said there is a great need for an independent federal oversight body to function as the ombudsman at the provincial level to help monitor the government’s commitment to service to its people.

“The provinces have had ombudsmen who have a role of governmental authority to solve problems on behalf of the citizens. They don’t affect politics, ”said the 48-year-old Sarnia, Ontario man whose girlfriend lives just a 12-minute drive in Port Huron, Michigan.

“But when the government does not meet its commitment, an ombudsman can step in and ensure that the government is meeting its standards of service to citizens.”

Dillon said he met Poon on social media as the two respectively fought Ottawa to relax their border rules and be able to reunite with their other halves. Since then, they have worked closely together through Faces of Advocacy.

“What you get with David is exactly what you see, someone who is very compassionate, very motivated and has a natural ability to connect people,” said Dillon, who works in the charitable sector.

“David brought together a very disparate group of people and connected us to start doing the key work that needed to be done. He was humble and always asked for advice, wanting to know if there were difficulties or problems. Those are the leadership skills that really make you love someone. “

Guled Arale for the NDP, Mohsin Bhuiyan for the Conservatives, Amanda Cain for the Green Party and Ramona Pache for the People’s Party of Canada also ride in the horse riding.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto reporter covering immigration for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung


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