Enter the Goodreads give-away for The Secret of Zoone

Enter the Goodreads give-away for The Secret of Zoone

My latest middle-grade fantasy book, The Secret of Zoone, is being released in March 2019, but you can get a sneak-peek by entering HarperCollins’ contest on Goodreads for a chance to win an advanced reading copy.

Secret of Zoone - ARC cover.jpgContest details

Just visit the Goodreads page by December 19, 2018, for your chance to win a copy of the ARC. These tend to be prized collector pieces down the road, but you might want to enter the contest simply for the chance to visit Zoone before anyone else.

After all, who wouldn’t want to visit the nexus of the multiverse, where a thousand doors lead to a thousand worlds? While visiting, you can hang out with a clumsy kid, a princess with inappropriately purple hair, and an overly-friendly skyger.

I’ll be talking a lot about this book in the coming months, but for now I encourage everyone to check out the page for a chance to win your very own copy of the ARC for The Secret of Zoone.

 

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Jewelry, wands, and masks: creating characters through costume

Jewelry, wands, and masks: creating characters through costume

I spent the last few weeks as an artist-in-residence at a school for particularly awesome teens. It’s a specialized school with only fifty students and, since this is my third or fourth stint there, I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know the kids.

For this term, I decided to embrace the Halloween season and have the students imagine character through intensive costume and prop-building. As an instructor, this is a challenge because no one is doing the same thing. That means there’s not a lot of demonstrations on my part, but a whole lot of problem-solving.

This means finding the right type of material for each student’s individual project and then helping them build what’s in their imaginations.

The Theme

We loosely chose the theme of superheroes, though many students decided to lean towards a fantasy or steampunk design.

Over the last few weeks, they drew, painted, sculpted, and built!  Here’s some photos of some of the many projects they created.

Jewelry Design

One of the main projects I introduced was jewelry design and creation. Using glass cabochons and fingernail paint, the students came up with different designs. These make fantastic accoutrements for superheroes, wizards, magical thieves .  .  . you name it.

I think they are all beautiful, but I will admit I’m partial to the ones that look like dragon eyes!

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Masks and Goggles

Every good superhero needs a mask, right? Many of the students chose to build masks or decorate goggles to help bring their characters to life.

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Enchanted Bottles

I brought so many containers of supplies to the school that I wasn’t even sure what I had there half the time. But one of my students found the “bottle box” and from then on many of them became obsessed with building enchanted bottles. Using colored sand, acrylic gems, beads, moss, feathers, and other material, they created a veritable wizard’s den!

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Wands and other magical props

Many of my students chose to build props that you can hold and carry.

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One of my friends showed up at my house one day with a box of sticks that he had pruned from some trees on Vancouver Island. “I figure these will make great wands,” he said. (I guess I have a reputation as a prop-builder.)

I decided to share the sticks with my students, and many of them made some cool items with them.

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Drawing, painting and multimedia

A significant part of the project was drawing, designing, and conceptualizing characters.

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Many of my students combined these drawings and brainstorming notes with their props to submit final “character design” projects.

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Wrapping up and saying good-bye

It’s always a bittersweet moment for me to wrap up a term at this school. These kids are so FABULOUS. They come to class each week, often thinking of themselves as less-than, and all I ever think is how I wish more people were like THEM: introspective, caring, creative, and community-minded.

We built a lot of amazing props over the course of the last nine weeks, but we hopefully we also built a lot more.

Touring libraries in Korea

Touring libraries in Korea

In a previous post, I described the “Storytelling Carnival Camp” that in taught in South Korea with Stacey Matson and Dan Bar-el. There was no rest for the weary after this camp—we immediately whisked off on a short tour of libraries.

Supporting literacy

The tour was put together with the help of the Canadian Embassy in Seoul and The Creative Writing for Children society. It is part of an ongoing effort to help build a cultural bridge between Canada and Korea and to help support literacy initiatives there.

Day 1: Yongin International Library

First stop of the tour was this palatial library in the city of Yongin. Actually, perhaps palatial isn’t quite the right word—the brand-new building is more like a stadium, and I mean that in terms of not only how it looks, but in its size.

In fact, at first we thought we must have the wrong place. How could we be visiting a library in a sports arena?

Turns out, it is just a magnificent and cavernous recreation and community center. There are all sorts of facilities in this facility—including a massive library.

When we first arrived, the place was empty, leaving me with a lonely, hollow feeling. All those unattended books! We were escorted to our presentation room and began setting up our computers and slideshows. Soon, families began streaming in.

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This turned out to be the most ostentatious of our events, with even local dignitaries attending. We could never quite figure out if it was the mayor of Yongin or the premier of the province.

We delivered our introductory presentations, then afterwards broke into three groups to deliver focused writing workshops. I decided that the focus of my tour would be to lead brainstorming sessions inspired by my book Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. I discussed with the students different enchanted vessels in mythology, such as Pandora’s box from Greek mythology and Urashima Tarō’s box from Japanese lore. Then I led an interactive session in which we designed our own boxes, imagining what each of them held, how they were opened, and who would find them.

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After the workshops, the library held a book sale. Even though the attendees were well versed in English, many of the kids asked me to sign their books in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Here’s a photo of the sheet showing the kid’s writing down their names, so I would have something to copy. (In truth, I do this no matter the language I’m signing in, because even the most innocuous-sounding names can sometimes have surprising spellings).

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When we finally exited our rooms, it was to find the library simply teeming with families. What an awesome sight. There were kids draped on stools and cushions, reading, playing, and basically enjoying the library.

Day 2: Mapo Community Library

The next day took us into the heart of Seoul, to a quieter, humbler library found on an unassuming street. This library is sponsored by a local university and we found the kids here to be quite tightknit, coming from the same neighborhood within the city.

They had pre-read my book Kendra Kandlestar series, which made it a lot of fun to talk and work with them.

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Since the kids were a little shy in asking questions, I took a poll to determine their favourite characters from the books.

Here are the official results:
Kendra: 5
Oki: 4
Jinx: 2
Uncle Griffinskitch: 2
Rumor: 1
Ratchet: 1
Undecided: 4

Poor Trooogul. Never got a sniff.

Mapo Community Library had a real cozy feel to it; you can tell it’s a type of haven, full of quiet nooks and corners for the neighborhood kids to come hang out in and talk with the warm and friendly staff. I wasn’t able to get many pictures here, just because of how the schedule went, but it was definitely a memorable environment.

Day 3: Sonpa English Library

The final day of our tur took us south of the Han River to a more distant neighborhood. This library is in an old water management system building that has been converted for community use. It is a beautiful space, however, with workshop rooms and a main presentation area.

Dan, Stacey, and I each delivered introductory presentations and then were lined up for a group Q&A. This was really quite fun. The library organizers had been worried that the kids would be too shy to ask questions, but they weren’t. I remember one question in particular: “What is your ultimate goal?”

That one made me think on my feet. I came up with what I thought was a pretty good answer at the time, but I actually can’t remember what it is now. (I just know I resisted the temptation to shout out “WORLD DOMINATION!”)

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After the Q&A, we each delivered short writing workshops again. In my room there was a board of questions specifically about my Kendra Kandlestar books.

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By the way, this library had the best bathroom I’ve ever visited. Just check out this urinal:

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A real success

All the audiences were super-engaged, despite the fact that English was the second language for most of them. I want to give a big thank you to CWC and the Canadian Embassy in Seoul for arranging and assisting in the tour and another giant shout out to the staff at each library for their warm and generous hearts. Their love of literature and children really shone in each of their spaces.

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A storytelling carnival in Korea

A storytelling carnival in Korea

I recently returned from Korea where I led a week-long creative writing camp for tweens and teens with authors Stacey Matson and Dan Bar-el. We survived the heat (at one point, it was 49 degrees Celsius, with humidity!) and managed to deliver a great program for our students.

Creative approaches to writing

Our creative writing camp was delivered through the Creative Writing for Children Society of Vancouver (CWC) and was designed around the theme of a Storytelling Carnival. This gave us lots of fuel for creative ideas—including gift parcels (in old-fashioned popcorn bags) full of fun activities such as yo-yos, stickers, and circus animal erasers.

At our camps, students usually write a lot of stories and poems, illustrate their work, and build props, working towards the goal of publishing an anthology of their creations.

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Storytelling

This year, we added a whole other factor under the expert leadership of Dan Bar-el: Oral storytelling. Each evening, Dan led “campfire” sessions, in which the kids created stories and practiced telling them. The younger students wrote stories based around the idea of a carnival and did the storytelling in themes. Our older kids took on a greater challenge: their subject was taking traditional Korean myths and telling modernized versions.

Prop-building, steampunk style

One of the main projects I led at camp was helping the students to design and decorate their own steampunk style books. I did this project at local libraries in BC a couple of years ago, and decided to bring it to Korea.

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The idea is that the students not only get a cool notebook by the end of the project, but it can serve as inspiration for a short story. There are plenty of tales of dangerous or forbidden books in the fantasy genre (think of the chained books in Harry Potter), so I thought this would be a good way to stir the imagination.

Here are a few photos of some of their creations:

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Character brainstorming

One of my favorite activities that I led was an interactive brainstorming session. I had the kids brainstorm a character who might participate in the circus, including coming up with all the minute details. As a way to galvanize them, I brainstormed my own character at the front of the group, using their individual suggestions to help build my character.

Here’s my character . . . “poop boy”:

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And here’s a few of the characters the students came up with:

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Afterwards, the project was to write a short “I Am” poem about the character. I decided I would write one based on the group character we developed. Here it is . . .

I am a poop boy

I am a poop boy
Shovelling truckloads of dung
Every
Single
Day.
It never ends.

Lions, monkeys, and elephants
—which is worse?
I can’t tell you.

The monkeys swing above me
Bombarding me with feces.
Sometimes, they even fling it at me,
Forcing me to wear
A handkerchief around my head.

The lions mangle and maul me,
Snatching at me with weaponized paws;
Those razor nails scratch and scrape me
Until I look like shredded paper.

And the elephants?
They leave behind MOUNTAINS of poop.
I wear three masks around my face,
A clothespin on my nose,
Goggles across my eyes,
But nothing seems to work.
The stench always wriggles its way through,
Causing everything to run:
My eyes, my nose, even my ears.

I wish I could run.
Away.

But I can’t
—not if I want to achieve my dreams.
One day, I will stand and strut
In the glare of the bright lights
And be the star of the show
With a crack of my whip
A twirl of my cane
And a tip of my hat.
People won’t call me
Stinky Will anymore.
No, sir!

They’ll look at my fine clothes,
Not handed down to me
From some second-rate clown,
But tailored and hand-stitched
Just for me,
And they’ll call me Ringmaster Will
And all of these poopy problems
Will be just a distant memory.

~

Well, most kids came up with characters far more prestigious than a poop boy! We had a lot of ringmasters, acrobats, and knife-throwers. Having the brainstorming portion completed help them be more detailed in their poems and, also, helped me with editing their work–if, for example, I noticed a dearth of description in their poems, I could point them back to their visual brainstorming.

Many kids took the visual brainstorming to heart and did it for other stories and projects in the camp, too:

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The camp was a lot of work for Stacey, Dan, myself, and our team of counselors, but it was a giant success. No one melted in the heat (even when we made the kids go outside for certain activities) and we’ll soon be publishing our anthology.

Here’s a photo of Stacey, Dan, and I and our students at the end of the camp.

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There was no rest to be had though; immediately after the camp, Stacey, Dan, and I embarked on a tour of libraries in Korea. But more on that in a future post . . .

The kids who helped save the kids

The kids who helped save the kids

In recent blog posts, I’ve been documenting the bureaucratic nightmare that ensnared my family as we tried to get home to Canada from Japan.

Trapped in limbo by our own government

Marcie I are one of five Canadian families who are in the process of adopting children from Japan but because the Canadian Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) wouldn’t issue us visas, we became trapped in Tokyo, without a way to get home—unless we abandoned our babies.

After weeks of uncertainty, and being given no clarity or timeline by our own government, we felt like we had been painted into a corner, left with no choice but to tell our story publicly.

Launching a media campaign to save our kids

After five days of intense media, doing interviews with all the major Canadian news outlets, writing blog posts, sharing stories on twitter and facebook, and campaigning for fellow citizens to write to the IRCC, we finally were able to convince the government to take action and bring us home.

It happened on a Saturday—much to our surprise, because this is not a day that the embassies or any government departments are open. But there we were, feeling at one of our lowest moments, when the email from the embassy in Manila, Philippines, came in with our visas (immigration from Japan is handled by the Manila office). Manila coordinated with the local embassy in Tokyo, had them open especially for us, and we charged out into monsoon-like weather to get our paperwork finalized. (I would have trekked through blizzard or hurricane; the weather just seemed to add to the drama).

After receiving our paperwork, we booked the first available flight home—for us, that was Monday, June 25th, nine full weeks after we had first arrived in Japan to receive custody of our son.

Our story ends happily

We arrived home to be greeted at the Vancouver International airport by friends, family, and TV cameras. It was all a little overwhelming but, despite being jetlagged and emotionally exhausted from our ordeal, we were happy to do some last interviews. After all, it was the medai campaign that helped us get home.

Here’s some photos taken by our friend Carrie Bercic of our arrival:

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A big thank you

I really want to thank our friends, family, colleagues, and fellow Canadian citizens who stepped up to help us campaign for a resolution to our case.

The reporters and interviewers who covered our story were sensitive, kind, and squarely on our side.

The Canadian kid-lit community was amazing, with children’s authors coast to coast writing letters on our behalf. I’m so humbled that everyone took the time to help out my family.

The kids who championed kids

One group I especially want to draw attention to is the kids. There were many children who clambered to our cause and wrote letters to the government to help Marcie, Hiro, and I get home.

As a children’s author, I visit a lot of schools and am in contact with a lot of passionate readers. I’m always so humbled when my characters and stories connect with readers—but I never dreamed that these readers would play such an important role in my personal life.

There is a class of grade-one students at Mulgrave School who are enormous fans of my Kendra Kandlestar series. I visited their class earlier this year and got to witness their passion first-hand. At that time, they asked me if I could come back to see their assembly at the end of April—they were putting on a play of Kendra Kandlestar. At that time, I asked their teacher, the amazing Elizabeth Kok, to email me a reminder.

Alas, when I received her email, Marcie and I were already in Japan with Hiro. I explained the reason, and so I had to settle on some photos and video footage of the play. Here’s a photo of the kids in action (check out those costumes!):

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Fast-forward a few weeks. Elizabeth caught wind of our predicament via twitter and immediately launched into action, leading a project in which her class of six- and seven-year-old students wrote letters to the Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, and telling him to bring us home.

Global News did a story on their letter-writing campaign, which you can view here.

Here are some still frames from the segment, showing their wonderful letters:

globalnews04globalnews03globalnews02globalnews01There were other kids who joined the cause, too. Here’s an illustrated letter written by Joanne, one of the students enrolled in my creative writing classes, to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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So many people supported us but, if you ask me, it was these letters by kids, in support of the five babies put in jeopardy by the Canadian government, that put us over the top. After all, no one wants to be seen being chastized by six-year-olds.

But whether you are six or sixty, there is zero doubt in mind: your support got us home. If it hadn’t been for people rallying to our cause, writing letters, expressing outrage on social media, we’d still be stuck in an endless cycle of bureaucracy. The support of our fellow citizens got us home. For that, Marcie, Hiro, and I are forever grateful.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

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Another week, more uncertainty: 5 Canadian Families with no path home

Another week, more uncertainty: 5 Canadian Families with no path home

Well, we’re at the end of another full week, and we haven’t received any news about our situation. We’re one of five Canadian families in the process of adopting children in Japan, but because the Canadian Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) won’t issue visas for our babies, we’re stuck here.

Our entry into the Land of Limbo began on May 25th
We first arrived in Japan on April 23rd, took custody of our son on April 24th, and then waited for the visa to arrive. We didn’t suspect there was any problem, but when our visa didn’t arrive by our scheduled departure date of May 23rd, we made the decision that I should head back home anyway to work and earn some income for our family. It wasn’t until May 25th, when I was back in Vancouver and separated from my family, that the IRCC announced that it wasn’t a minor delay we were experiencing, but that they were indefinitely suspending our process. What I had thought would only be a few days’ separation turned into several weeks.

Long days and nights
During that time, we hoped for resolution, but when it never arrived, I finally made my way back to Japan on June 15th to rejoin Marcie and our son. Since returning, I’ve been so busy writing government officials, coordinating and conducting media interviews, and in general trying to promote our story that I’ve barely left the hotel.

Trying to find normalcy
Last night, we finally decided to take a few hours off. We met up with one of the other moms stranded here and separated from her husband, who also had to return to Vancouver for work. We took a humble stroll through the grounds of a Japanese garden that is managed by a local hotel. We saw fireflies, sculptures, a beautiful pagoda, and just tried to pretend we were normal people without the weight of uncertainty bearing down us and our children.

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Uncertainty grows
With each week that passes without a resolution, the more in jeopardy we feel—not only emotionally, but financially, and physically. Yes, physically. Weeks of stress and duress can take a toll.

Thankfully, however, our children are babies—they have no idea about the situation. We’ve now had them for more than half their lives and we’re the only parents they’ve ever known. As far as they are concerned, life is normal. They still coo and cough, smile and smirk, naive to the whimsies of the bureaucracies that hold their future in the balance.

Contacting the government helps
We do sincerely believe that everyone’s efforts—writing letters to MPs and the ministers, sharing links on social media, and advocating on our behalf—have made a difference. Our campaign has captured the attention of the decision makers. What decisions they make, or how quickly they make them, is still something we worry about, but at least it seems that THEY are now worrying about us, too.

Thank you
So, this is another heartfelt thank you to everyone for your support. Your letter-writing, your messages of support, your prayers and positive vibes, mean a lot to us and it’s hard to put our gratitude into words. There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world—far more terrible than the situation we are in—and we are so blessed to be offered the care and attention of friends, family, colleagues, and even complete strangers.

Grateful to Japan
We also want to express our gratitude to the country of Japan. The people here have been so welcoming and hospitable. The workers at our agency here have checked in on us, chaperoned us to medical and immunization appointments, and sincerely cared about our well-being.

Help us keep our story alive
If you haven’t yet written a letter to the Minister of Immigration, please consider doing so. There’s a helpful template letter at the bottom of this blog post.

If you’ve already written, and would like to send an additional letter, you can use the template letter that I posted at the bottom of this blog post.

Thank you again. Our uneven path continues, but now we don’t feel quite so lonely.

 

Our family continues to be trapped—as more government rhetoric swirls

Our family continues to be trapped—as more government rhetoric swirls

Earlier this week, I posted the story about five Canadian families—one of which is mine—who are stuck in Japan with the babies we are in the process of adopting. You can read that post here.

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My wife, Marcie, with our baby, in Tokyo. Japan is a beautiful country. We love it here. But it’s not our home.

Yesterday, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Ahmed Hussen, spoke for the first time publicly on the matter, stating: “There’s a disconnect between what the Japanese government requirements were and what the organizations that were facilitating the adoptions were telling the families.”

We found this response disheartening for several reasons, not the least of which is that what he said IS SIMPLY NOT THE CASE.

So, rather than simply sitting back and taking his comments on the chin, I’ve decided to write another post and make sure OUR message is getting out there, too.

On June 7th, the lawyer for the five families provided three separate legal opinions to the Department of IRCC to explain that we have indeed followed all requirements in Japan, Canada, and the province of BC.

One of these legal opinions is from the former Chief Justice of Japan’s Family Court—in other words, an extremely qualified expert to speak about Japan’s requirements. The legal opinions can be viewed in full on a news article on Global News’s website.

The legal opinions have been in the hands of the IRCC for TWO WEEKS but, to the best of our knowledge, they have not followed up on them.

What is two weeks? Well, to us, stranded in Japan, it’s thousands of dollars in extra expenses, more lost income that can’t be earned at home, and, most importantly, more stress and uncertainty. Three of the ten parents have had to travel back to Canada to fulfil work and family obligations—which means those families have been split asunder. I was one of those parents, and after a three-week separation from my wife and son, was able to fly back to Japan on June 14th (of course, at great expense).

All of this is while we are caring for infant children. They are not a burden—they are a joy. But we are being deprived of all the normal situations that other Canadian families get to experience with new additions to the family. We haven’t been able to introduce our children to friends and family. We haven’t been able to take them to the local park, the community centre, or the library. We haven’t even been able to take them to our family doctors.

If you want to continue supporting us, please consider writing another letter to the Minister of IRCC and to the Primer Minister, Justin Trudeau himself. I have provided another template letter at the bottom of this post.

For social media posts, please tag @JustinTrudeau @HonAhmedHussen @CitImmCanada ‏and include the hashtags #BringBCFamiliesHome #5CanadianFamilies #cdnpoli.

Also, feel free to use the graphic below.

Bring5familieshome

We’ve had many people asking if we have set up a Go Fund Me campaign to financially support the five families. We appreciate everyone’s concern—as a group, we have discussed this as an option to consider if our situation is not resolved in the near future. For now, we want to focus our attention on pressuring the Canadian government to hear our story and make the right decision to bring us home with our babies—and to make that decision SOON.

If you have yet write a letter on our behalf, you can use the template that is at the bottom of my previous post. If this is an additional letter, feel free to use the letter below as a starting point, and customize and personalize it as you see fit.

Email to:
Minister@cic.gc.ca
Ahmed.Hussen@parl.gc.ca
justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca

You may also want to copy your MP. You can find out your MP’s email with this link.

Correspondence matters. Pressure matters. Even if you receive a stock response from a government official, they take letters from the public seriously—especially letters of outrage.

I want to reiterate the gratitude of the five families. Every letter sent to the government, every note and message on Social Media, buoys us.



Subject Line: Bring the five Canadian families home NOW

To the Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen,

I am writing as a concerned Canadian citizen, frustrated to learn that five Canadian families are STILL stranded in Tokyo, Japan, while bureaucrats in your department continue to deny permanent residence visas to the babies they are in the process of adopting.

I heard you speak on this matter publicly for the first time, in which you stated: “There’s a disconnect between what the Japanese government requirements were and what the organizations that were facilitating the adoptions were telling the families.”

My understanding is that this is simply not true. The legal counsel for the five families is on record stating that he has sent legal opinions from Japanese experts to your ministry. One of these opinions comes from the former Chief Justice of Japan’s Family Court. If you ask me, this is an extremely qualified expert to speak about Japan’s requirements. So, why is your government delaying? This entire matter has now been in your hands for several weeks, and yet Canadian families continue to suffer financially and emotionally, ensnared in your cruel net of bureaucracy.

And all of this because officials in your department have decided to take authority from the US Department of State website and the Trump regime, a regime that has currently been in the news for literally ripping children from parents’ arms and putting them in, for lack of a better word, detention camps. This decision, to take action against Canadian citizens based on US immigration policy, is completely bewildering and fundamentally against the values that I hold dear as a Canadian.

 

These five Canadian families have spent the last several weeks nurturing and bonding with the babies. To continue stranding them in a foreign country without providing any timeline, is absolutely heartless. It also seems completely disingenuous to continue rolling out the standard rhetoric that their situation is a “priority.” How can you say that in good faith when this matter has been in your hands for over a month, and counting?

 

I urge you to find the political will—and a solution—to bring these five families home NOW. Your government is a self-proclaimed champion of families, multiculturalism, and immigration.

Prove it.

Sincerely,

Your name and address