A video glitch put a Manitoba man on immigration limbo, but he’s now a citizen after going public
A Manitoba man stuck in immigration limbo because of a technical glitch during a virtual ceremony became a Canadian citizen last week after deciding to go public with his year-long saga.
Brian Sumner, 66, was born in England and has lived in Canada since 2006. Instead of extending his permanent residency for the third time, he decided to apply for Canadian citizenship in 2021.
Little did he know that after this decision he would no longer have citizenship papers or permanent residence card and would not be able to leave the country as he was waiting for documents that would never arrive.
“I really have nowhere to go. They don’t answer calls. They don’t answer your messages. They don’t answer the forms they put online for you to fill out,” Sumner said of his experience with the federal Immigration Service, Refugees and Citizenship Division.
Mistakes at the naturalization ceremony
His troubles began when he attended a virtual ceremony on March 29, 2022. He was ordered to cut up his permanent resident card – which is standard procedure – and take an oath of citizenship before a judge.
He logged in and saw the judge and others attending the ceremony when suddenly the screen went black. He could still hear the ceremony, so he waited and took the oath along with everyone else.
The screen came back on, he saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulating everyone, and then the ceremony ended.
An email soon arrived congratulating him on becoming a Canadian citizen.
Sumner says he waited for more information, including his citizenship certificate number, which would allow him to apply for a new passport, but nothing came.
“And we’ve waited and waited and waited,” Sumner said. “So a couple of weeks later I tried calling her … it was awful.”
Each time he called immigration, he had to choose different options for six minutes before an automated message told him no one was available and to try again later.
Then he noticed that his status on the online portal changed from “Pending” to “Closed”.
From that moment, about a month after the ceremony, he estimated he called two to three times a week and only got through once – and they couldn’t give him any information.
To add to the confusion, he received a certificate from his MP, Ted Falk, congratulating him on his naturalization. He called Falk’s assistants hoping to learn the status of his file, and the department informed Falk’s assistants that Sumner’s citizenship certificate had been shredded.
“Apparently it was null and void because the judge hadn’t seen me … But I couldn’t find out any of that information,” Sumner said.
That limbo lasted until February of this year, leaving Sumner unable to travel because he tore up his permanent resident card and was unable to receive the old-age security he was entitled to when he turned 65.
“Respond to a call. They’re a big organization,” he said.
“For me, being able to travel means being able to raise the money, for me [it] has the freedom to choose.”
The department called during the interview
After months of silence and an email from CBC to the department, Sumner received a call from them in the middle of an interview with CBC asking if he could attend a naturalization ceremony next week.
“Why does the media need to be involved to take action?” he asked.
CLOCK | Brian Sumner gets a call from immigration during the interview with CBC News:
The next day, Sumner received another call from the deputy director of the Manitoba department, apologizing for the mistake and offering to host a private virtual ceremony in the next 30 minutes.
On that day, February 10, Sumner officially became a Canadian citizen.
“Absolutely stunned,” he said after becoming a Canadian citizen almost a year after his first ceremony.
“I’m really, really happy. It’s a load off my head.”
Lawyers say department hard to reach
Winnipeg immigration attorneys say the problems Sumner faced are commonplace when it comes to immigration, refugees and Canadian citizenship.
“I am no longer shocked and surprised by these types of government delays, the frustrations that individuals have trying to have even basic communications with the department,” said Reis Pagtakhan, immigration attorney and partner at MLT Aikins .
“That seems to be more of a rule than an exception.”
Pagtakhan said he often sends multiple emails with questions from the department about a file, only to never hear from them.
“The Canadian government either doesn’t get back to you, they get back to you in weeks or months, or they deny your application,” Pagtakhan said.
“Well, if you answer my question, I could fix that.”
He said Manitobans would never wait a year for a new driver’s license because of a technical glitch.
“Why is that acceptable in an immigration procedure?” he asked.
This point was corroborated by Carolina Fridman, an immigration attorney in Winnipeg.
“It’s incredible,” Fridman said upon hearing Sumner’s story. “There must be another way to contact them.”
She said going to the media can usually yield quicker results than actually trying to reach someone at immigration because the department “really isn’t easy to navigate.”
The system recorded Sumner as a “no show.”
A spokesman for the department told CBC News that because Sumner lost connection during the ceremony, the judge did not see him take his citizenship oath.
He was recorded as a “no show” in the department’s system.
However, the same system also recorded that he had taken the oath and his file was closed, the spokesman told CBC News.
His citizenship certificate was drawn up and then destroyed. It took another five months before the management error was discovered.
The spokesman called Sumner’s situation an “unfortunate mistake” and apologized for what happened.
On September 2, 2022, his citizenship application was re-approved and he was placed in “the queue for the ceremony,” the spokesman said.
It is unclear why there was no communication between immigration and Sumner during this period.
Pagtakhan says it all could have been completed sooner if the government had realized its mistake earlier and told Sumner about it.
“The problem is that it takes the government months and months and months to come to this solution,” he said.
“If the government offered that person the solution of getting their citizenship a week after they screwed up, that wouldn’t be something we would talk about.”