Canadian families frustrated they will be separated on evacuation flight from China

While some Canadians are expressing relief the federal government is sending a plane to evacuate citizens out of Wuhan, China on Thursday, others say they’re frustrated their families are being separated because certain members aren’t eligible to board the flight home.

On Monday evening, some Canadian citizens who have been in lockdown for days in the Chinese city that has been the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak received letters from the Canadian government informing them they have been shortlisted for a spot on the 250-seat plane.

However, the letters cautioned they are not guaranteed a seat “due to demand and the restrictions associated with this flight.”

“You should make plans for the eventuality that you are not able to board the plane,” a copy of the emailed letter obtained by CTV News read.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has said that 304 people have been asked to be repatriated from China, but only 280 of them have Canadian passports.

The recipients were also told they would be responsible for finding their own transportation to the airport and that anyone exhibiting symptoms of the disease would be barred from boarding.

The chartered flight is expected to land in Canada at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where all passengers will be held in quarantine for 14 days before they can leave.

There has been confusion about whether permanent residents of Canada who are stuck in Wuhan will be allowed on the flight, but Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne clarified on Tuesday that only Canadian citizens will be allowed to board.

The only exception to this rule would be in cases where a minor with Canadian citizenship requires accompaniment by a guardian who doesn’t have their citizenship.

In circumstances where one guardian has Canadian citizenship and the other one doesn’t, only the Canadian citizens will be allowed to board the flight with the minor.

That’s the prospect facing Megan Millward and her family, who have been waiting in Wuhan to return home. Because her husband is a permanent resident and not a Canadian citizen, he will not be allowed to join her and their two children on the flight back to Canada.

“It’s frustrating. It’s stressful,” she told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “It’s kind of mind-boggling because both sides say they prioritize keeping families together so we don’t understand what the problem is.”

Millward said she has called the government’s emergency hotline to explain their situation, but she said they were told there hasn’t been a change in policy.

Despite the restriction, Millward said her husband is going to accompany them to the airport in the hopes he will be able to board with them. She said they haven’t been able to tell their children he may not be returning home with them yet.

“They don’t know that their dad might not go home with them,” she said, her voice cracking.

Wayne Duplessis is in a similar situation because his wife and eldest son do not have citizenship while he and his youngest son do.

Unlike the Millwards, however, Duplessis said he plans to stay in Wuhan so that his family isn’t separated.

“I’m certainly disappointed that I can’t take my family,” he said on Tuesday.

For now, Duplessis said they plan to bunker down in the city and wait it out. He said they have enough food and water in their apartment for a month and they will do some online teaching for income.

On the other side of the world, Monte Gisborne has been anxiously awaiting news that his wife and stepdaughter will able to travel from Wuhan, where they were visiting her family, to their home in Coquitlam, B.C.

Because they are only permanent residents of Canada, he said they have been told they won’t be eligible for Thursday’s flight.

“We had a very tough night last night,” he recalled.

As the lockdown wears on, Gisborne said he’s concerned about his wife and daughter’s wellbeing in Wuhan.

“They’re scared. They’re very scared. Not because they’re unhealthy but because they’re healthy,” he said.

Gisborne said he just wants the Canadian government to tell him what their plan is for permanent residents who are still in China.

“We just want them to tell us what the plan is because really, in order to have hope, you have to understand that there’s the possibility of a positive outcome,” he said.

Richard Fabic in Toronto is more hopeful that his family will be reunited soon after he said he received the letter telling him that his 15-month-old daughter is eligible for the flight home. She is currently in Wuhan with his parents and he said he believes they have both been given the greenlight to accompany her home.

Fabic said he and his wife have experienced a whirlwind of emotions as they waited for news of their daughter.

“A lot of things are going through my mind… exhausted from the lack of sleep, just so happy to receive the news. Just a lot of emotions,” he said.

If his daughter is on Thursday’s flight, Fabic said he plans to travel to Trenton, Ont. to drop off a few things, including diapers, for his daughter, even if he won’t be allowed to see her for 14 days.

Steven Li, too, said he’s experiencing a mixture of emotions after learning that he was shortlisted for a seat on the plane back to Canada. He said he’s still trying to figure out how he will travel to the airport in Wuhan, but he’s hopeful he will be able to return home to Toronto soon.

With everything that has happened, Li said he hasn’t had a lot of time to come to terms with his feelings during the quarantine in Wuhan.

“I was thinking in my mind of all the cities in the world, it had to be the one that I’m in,” he said. “It’s kind of surreal in a sense. I’m still taking this in every day. Like this is actually happening.

I’m looking forward to going back home.”