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Surf prodigy battles bureaucratic tide to become Canadian like dad and grampa

Erin Brooks needs citizenship by Jan. 31 to compete for Canada in the Olympics
Member of Parliament Jenny Kwan is calling on the federal government to help surfer Erin Brooks compete for Canada in next summer’s Olympic Games. Brooks is shown June 7, 2023, at the ISA World Surfing Games in Surf City, El Salvador, where she won silver in the women’s shortboard event. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Surf Canada-Dom Domic

A full-court press is underway to get Erin Brooks on a surfboard for Canada at the upcoming world championships and Olympic Games.

Member of Parliament Jenny Kwan, the NDP critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, asked Minister Marc Miller on Thursday to grant Brooks citizenship because an amendment to the Citizenship Act has stalled in Ottawa.

“I’m asking the Minister of Immigration to grant Erin’s citizenship under special grant, citing undue hardship,” Kwan said Thursday at a press conference in Vancouver.

The 16-year-old Brooks earned a silver medal at this year’s world championship and claimed a 2022 world junior title competing for Canada under an International Surfing Association citizenship waiver.

She also won a World Surf League Challenger Series event Oct. 21 in Saquarema, Brazil.

“Erin is a prodigy,” Surf Canada executive director Dom Domic said.

Canada’s recent denial of Brooks’ citizenship application threw a spanner in her career.

The clock is ticking on a resolution that allows her to wear the Maple Leaf at February’s World Surf Games in Puerto Rico, which is the last chance to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games.

Brooks was born in Texas and grew up in Hawaii. Her Canadian ties are through her American-born father Jeff, who is a dual American-Canadian citizen, and her grandfather born and raised in Montreal.

The deadline is Jan. 31 for Brooks to produce a certificate of Canadian citizenship or she will not compete in Puerto Rico, or the Olympic Games.

“This is really hard for me and my family. I feel like I’m being stripped of my heritage because I grew up in a Canadian home,” Brooks said. “My dad, grandpa and great-grandpa are all Canadian and I would just love to be a part of the country where I feel most at home.

“I have strangers coming up to me and asking me how the process is going and asking me what I did wrong. I just tell them that I can only control what I can control.”

Kwan, the MP for Vancouver East, was flanked Thursday by Brooks, Domic and citizenship advocate Don Chapman at the press conference.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told Brooks in a letter than her application was denied because she’s not stateless, has not experienced special or unusual hardship or “provided services of an exceptional value to Canada which warrants a discretionary grant of Canadian citizenship.”

Kwan produced a fistful of letters from Brooks’ father Jeff, Surf Canada, the International Surfing Association, the World Surfing League, Courtney-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns and a therapist stating the financial, competitive and emotional stakes for the teenager.

Surfers live nomadic lives training and competing in oceans across the globe, Kwan said, which has kept Brooks from spending time with her mother currently undergoing cancer treatment.

“Sponsorship matters,” Kwan said. “It costs a lot of money to travel to compete, and to do all of these things. For Erin, it is estimated that she could lose as much as $100,000 in sponsorship as a result of this situation.

“The opportunity loss can have a lifetime implication for Erin.”

Kwan accused the Conservative opposition in Ottawa of stalling an amendment to the Citizenship Act, Bill S-245, that restores citizenship rights for second-generation people born abroad.

Bill C-37 in 2009 ended those rights and Kwan says Brooks is emblematic of those experiencing the fallout.

Bill S-245 won’t return to the House of Commons for third reading before mid-December, Kwan said.

“As the Canadian law stands right now, people who are second generation born abroad, do not have Canadian citizenship conferred to them from their Canadian parents. This was not always the case,” Kwan said.

The denial of Brooks’ citizenship bid made her ineligible to surf for Canada at the recent Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, and also makes her ineligible to defend her world junior title next week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Sanoa Dempfle-Olin of Tofino, B.C., became the first Canadian to qualify in Olympic surfing at the Pan Am Games because she reached the women’s final.

“I’m just praying that we can get this done, so I can represent Canada in surfing competitions, but also so I can achieve my dream of being a Canadian,” Brooks said.

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