This advocate couldn’t get a meeting with Bill Blair over his COVID-19 border policies — so he’s running against him

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As a leader of an advocacy group for Canadians separated from their loved ones by the country’s COVID-19 border restrictions, David Edward-Oi Poon had a meeting by phone or email with Bill Blair, federal public safety minister for the past. An unsuccessful attempt has been made to schedule the meeting. 18 months.

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So when a federal election was called in August, the Toronto family doctor thought the time had come for a one-on-one meeting with the points-man for Ottawa’s border control measures.

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

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What inspired him to enter the race? An Independent Candidate in the Scarborough Southwest Riding The Faces of Advocacy had 12,000 members and their heartbreaking stories of family separation, depression, helplessness, and despair were overlooked.

“I’m born privileged in Canada, and even I felt completely powerless. So many people who don’t have good English or French, who don’t have access to power and who feel deprived If they are victims then how can they get a sense of justice or fairness or accountability? asked Poon.

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“If it takes me an entire campaign to be able to talk to Bill Blair face-to-face, it shows how absurd the system is, that it takes a person to run a federal election campaign to talk to that person.” Who needs to be accountable for those actions.”

In the wake of the global pandemic, Canada closed its border to non-citizens and non-permanent residents on March 18, 2020. Although immediate foreign members of the family were exempted from the restrictions, that family travel had to be “essential and non-discretionary”.

As a result, many spouses and partners were stopped at the border and sent back home, including Poon’s significant other, Alexandria Aquino, who arrived at Pearson Airport from Ireland. April 2020 and entry was banned.

Faces of Advocacy’s voluntary efforts eventually culminated in the easing of border restrictions for unmarried couples in Ottawa and those foreign nationals with a dying relative in Canada.

Poon said it still bothers him that Blair hasn’t spoken to him and his group about the concerns and questions he has raised over COVID-19 border policies that keep loved ones apart.

Poon, 35, who is pursuing her studies at the University of Toronto, said, “We realized there was a lack of accountability for the government when they make a decision that affects so many Canadian families and we didn’t even feel the need to tell Is.” Training in public health.

“We are a disadvantaged group talking to power and power refuses to talk to us.”

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

In a statement to the Star, Blair’s campaign said the government has taken “meaningful” and “unprecedented” action to limit the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the country. He said senior advisers from the Health, Public Safety and Immigration offices have had regular discussions with Poon.

“We know that many people made sacrifices as a result, and we acknowledge the challenges they faced,” said Blair, a former Toronto police chief. He was re-elected in 2019 with 57.2 percent of the votes.

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

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

“While the majority of CBSA officers do their jobs brilliantly, we know there are instances where their conduct will be questioned,” Blair said. “And when this happens it is important that complaints are investigated fairly and impartially.”

David Edward-Oi Poon (right) and John McCall drive south at Scarborough Riding.  Poon snapped a photo of the McCall family.  John's children say goodbye to their dying mother Donna by video due to COVID-19 border restrictions.

Maddock, Ontario, resident John McCall, a member of the Face of Advocacy, was among those Poon consulted before putting his name on the ballot.

McCall’s wife, Donna, a retired ICU nurse, was diagnosed with liver failure early last year, but their adult children, Ian and Meghan, were banned from entering the US because they hold Canadian citizenship. did not have the certificate, even if they were citizens. Vansh Their children bid farewell to their dying mother over a video call on August 10, 2020.

Poon wanted to run against Blair in Donna’s name and needed McCall’s blessing.

The 68-year-old had no hesitation in supporting his friend and even campaigned for him in Scarborough, an hour from Peterborough, driving all the way from his house, home to Poon. Volunteered to help by going home.

Sporting a gray campaign T-shirt that said “Vote Poon,” McCall shared his family’s trauma and urged residents in the ride to stage an independent federal office for Poon’s platform. To ensure transparency and accountability of the government, and advocated for it. Citizens failed by government policies

“I hope David will raise the profile and shame ministers who are not accepting those who are victims of the decisions he has made,” said the retired computer systems consultant.

“We should at least get some direct explanation and not be ignored or silenced by some boilerplate explanation and email.”

McCall, who had never voluntarily participated in the election campaign, said it was a powerful experience to persuade someone to put their name toward the signatures of at least 100 people, which would allow Poon to enter the race. was necessary for.

“I have found that people listen when you are able to speak to them directly, no matter what their previous preconceived attitudes may have been. When you tell them your personal story directly face-to-face, people listen. are,” McCall said.

So it is very difficult to deal with those (government) ministers who don’t have the opportunity to talk face to face, and they ignore my position.

Sean Dillon (right) of Sarnia, Ont., and girlfriend Sally, who lives just a 12-minute drive away in Port Huron, Mich.

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

“Provinces have ombudsmen who have the role of a government authority to solve a problem on behalf of citizens. They don’t influence policy,” said the 48-year-old Sarnia, Ont., man, whose girlfriend in Port Huron, Mich. It is only 12 minutes drive away.

“But where the government falls short of its commitment, an ombudsman can step in and ensure that the government is living up to its service standards for citizens.”

Dillon said he met Poon on social media when the two of them were respectively fighting over Ottawa to relax their border rules so they could reconnect with their other parts. They have since worked closely together through Face of Advocacy.

“With David you get what you see,” said Dillon, who works in the charitable field, who is very kind, very inspired and has a natural ability to connect people.

“David brought together a very different group of people and brought us together so that he could start doing the important work that needed to be done. He was polite and always asked for advice, wanted to know if there were difficulties or problems Those are leadership skills that really make someone dear to you.”

Guled Arle for the NDP, Mohsin Bhuiyan for the Conservatives, Amanda Cain for the Green Party and Ramona Pache for the People’s Party of Canada are also in the running.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter who covers immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung
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