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Quebecers plead with province to let their loved ones in through family reunification

Protesters gathered in front of Quebec Premier François Legault’s office in Montreal Sunday afternoon demanding Quebec speed up its processing times for family reunification to match the rest of Canada.  (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
Protesters gathered in front of Quebec Premier François Legault’s office in Montreal Sunday afternoon demanding Quebec speed up its processing times for family reunification to match the rest of Canada. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)

Montrealer Sacha Sidani recently celebrated his first wedding anniversary with his wife — but she's been stuck in Dubai waiting to be reunited with him since July.

Sidani is one of over 38,000 Quebecers waiting for a loved one to enter the country through the family reunification program, according to Québec Réunifié.

When he applied, he thought his wife, a Russian citizen living in Dubai, would be able to join him within a year.

"But then one month later, the processing times increased up to 42 months and it's been very frustrating and causing a lot of anxiety on both my part and my wife's part," said Sidani.

"We are living in uncertainty and in fear that we won't be able to create our own family within a reasonable time."

Sidani was one of a dozen protesters outside Premier François Legault's office in Montreal Sunday afternoon demanding Quebec speed up its processing times for family reunification to match the rest of Canada.

Spousal sponsorship applicants in Quebec face a processing time of about 34 months to bring over their loved ones from abroad, compared to 12 months for other Canadians.

For a parent or grandparent of foreign origin, the wait is about 50 months, when other Canadians only need to wait an average of 24 months.

The delay is due in part to Quebec's family reunification envelope being capped at around 10,000 applicants per year.

"We are families, we are human beings and we wish to be treated like human beings," said Sidani.

Marie-Gervaise Pilon, an organizer with Québec Réunifié, has been waiting over four years for her husband to join her in Montreal from England. They were first kept apart when the pandemic hit and countries shut their borders, and they have had to apply to Quebec's family reunification program twice.

"I had a mental breakdown in December when [processing times] got all the way up to 42 [months]," Pilon said.

"Sanitary measures were easier to accept, to protect vulnerable people and elderly people [...] but for political reasons and reasons that don't seem to make sense in the grand scheme of things, it's harder to accept."

'Humanitarian issue'

Pilon says she and her husband are lucky enough to live where they feel safe, but that isn't the case for everyone waiting to come to Quebec.

For example, 2SLGBTQ+ couples might have a partner living in a country that discriminates against them. Others are stuck in countries in political turmoil, like Haiti.

"It's a humanitarian issue," said Pilon. "Had they married someone from Ontario or New Brunswick, they would already be here. But instead they have to wait over a year in unsafe conditions."

The delays have very real physical and psychological security implications, she added.

Pilon stresses family reunification applicants are in a different immigration category than refugees since they're married to or related to people with Canadian citizenship or permanent residency.

"These are families who are basically waiting to be together to begin their life projects," she said.

Québec Réunifié has a meeting with Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette Tuesday.

In a letter sent to Fréchette in early March, Canada's Immigration Minister Marc Miller said family reunification was a priority for the federal government and that his ministry would bypass Quebec's self-imposed cap on applicants to speed up processing times.

The federal immigration department said it will process about 20,500 applications over three years.