A South African man who recently made contact with a long-lost brother says he’s unable to pay him a visit in Canada because the federal government is refusing to grant him a visitor’s visa.
“I was gobsmacked when they said no,” said Michael Luck. “It is such a mean-spirited act.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has told CBC News the officer who reviewed his documents wasn’t sure Luck would leave Canada after his visit.
Luck was born in South Africa in 1963 and placed for adoption by his then-18-year-old mother. It was a “closed adoption,” which left Luck with little ability to track his birth family.
Still, he spent most of his adult life searching for his mother, believing that she would have likely gone on to have a family later in life.
In March 2018, Luck finally made contact with Paul Ackermann, a South Africa native now living in Oshawa, Ont. Luck believed he and Ackermann were half-brothers born to the same mother, who died in 2012.
“These are the first blood relatives I’ve ever had in my life, so this is a pretty big deal for me,” Luck told CBC Toronto via Skype from his home in Bangkok, Thailand.
Brothers meet in Las Vegas
Ackermann was skeptical when the two first started chatting over WhatsApp, but paperwork provided by Luck, including a copy of their mother’s birth certificate, convinced him that they were indeed family.
The two agreed to meet in Las Vegas last fall, where Luck’s adopted family lives.
“When I saw his eyes and his mouth, that was my mom. He’s got my mom’s eyes and my mom’s lips,” said Ackermann, who was born four years after Luck.
Ackermann’s mother, father and younger brother are all dead, making Luck his only living member of his immediate family.
“This was like a blessing. Like, ‘Wow, I’ve got a brother,'” he added. “It was like my mom left me a gift.”
The two visited over breakfast at a crowded hotel buffet, though both hoped for a more substantive get-together in the future, so Ackermann invited Luck to visit him at his home in Oshawa.
The visit was set to happen this summer, but the plans were scuttled when Luck’s application for a temporary resident visa — required for tourists from South Africa — was denied, meaning the two will have to briefly meet in the United States instead.
“Instead of hanging out around the barbecue at his house for five days, and building our relationship, we’ll be sitting in Denny’s at Niagara Falls,” Luck said of their re-made plans, now scheduled for September.
Planned visit ‘vague and poorly documented’
Luck says his application to IRCC included documentation of his connection to Ackermann, in addition to tickets for return flights from Toronto, proof of funds totalling around $60,000 and the business licence of his travel company based in Rajasthan, India, where he also lives part-time.
Ackermann also provided a letter inviting Luck to his home for a five-day visit.
But despite what Luck described as thorough documentation, the government ultimately rejected the application.
In an email to CBC Toronto, a spokesperson for IRCC said the government was not convinced that Luck would leave Canada at the end of his stated visit.
“The officer noted that Mr. Luck did not appear well established in his country of residence and that his purpose of visit appeared vague and poorly documented,” said spokesperson Rémi Larivière.
‘Beneath my contempt’
Luck said that suggestion was “beneath my contempt,” and cited the more than 130 pages of documentation he provided in his application.
“I cannot believe that after 55 years, I find my brother and am prevented by an arbitrary decision by some person in the Canadian government from visiting and getting to know him for a weekend,” he said.
Luck and Ackermann believe the unusual circumstances around the visit may have contributed to the visa denial, though IRCC did not say that was a factor.
Despite the visa denial, Luck and Ackermann say they intend to stay in touch and plan further visits, though doing so in Canada no longer seems like a possibility.
“The Canadian government is not going to prevent me from getting to know my brother,” Luck said.