Watch as South Shields' taxi driver weeps tears of joy at eventually getting his Canadian visa to say final farewell to his deceased brother
South Shields taxi driver Gary Elliott wept tears of joy after finally getting his visa approved to travel to Canada to say “a proper goodbye” to his brother, Michael, who sadly passed away from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) - a rare condition which affects the brain.
Michael, who was a chef and also hails from Horsley Hill in South Shields, passed away in April 2021, but due Covid restrictions at the time the family were unable to travel to pay their respects and so have bought tickets to fly out to say their final farewells.
During the visit the family will hold a belated wake and decide what to do with Michael’s ashes.
However, due to a conviction for criminal damage which was imposed 36 years ago which has caused complications with his application, Gary, who has no other convictions, had not been issued with a visa, despite applying three months ago, and was left feeling “devastated and depressed” that he may “not be able to say goodbye”.
Gary made his initial application on June 13, where he openly declared his conviction. He was then asked to provide a Police certificate which confirmed he had no other previous or post convictions since the offence and that the British Police did not view him as a risk for an entry visa.
After submitting the accompanying certificate on July 5, and despite a further 50 emails requesting an update, Gary had not received any clarity either way as to whether he would be issued a visa.
As a last resort, Gary contacted the South Shield’s Gazette to see if we could help and on the day after we contacted the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to obtain a response, he was notified that his visa application has been accepted and he can travel to Canada.
A tearful Gary, 57, said: “I was with my son Connor and we just jumped up together and started crying. Just knowing I can now travel and say goodbye properly, rather than to photographs, is amazing and I’m overjoyed.
"We were really close, and without my dad on the scene he was more like a father figure to me. I somehow feel he must have been looking down from up above and wanted me there.
"I’ve been feeling so depressed about not being there but this will help me with my grief and to bring closure and I’m really happy to know that I can now say goodbye.”
Gary is now able to pack his bags and join 30 other members of his family in saying their final farewells, including his sister-in-law Anapaula and his nephews and nieces, Joshua, Cortland, Napau and Nathan.
He said: “All I could picture was the rest of family being there and me being 3,000 miles away and unable to say goodbye. My family knew I’d been trying my hardest to find out what had happened to my visa application but to have to tell then I wasn’t able to go would be the hardest thing in the world.”
After contacting local MPs, councillors and the Foreign Office, Gary had all but given up.
He said: “I’d given up hope and didn’t know what else I could do. My sister suggested contacting the Gazette for help and I’m so pleased I did and someone took the time to give me a call. The paper were sent some forms I had to sign and within two hours of them being sent back I got notification that my visa had been processed.
"All I kept getting from emails I had sent was an automated response saying that my review is underway and that there were delays due to the situation with applications from Ukraine.”
Speaking to the Gazette earlier in the same day (Wednesday) before his visa was confirmed, a distraught Gary had spoken openly about his criminal damage offence and his despair that it was being held against him 36 years later.
He said: “In 1986 I got caught up in an incident in Huddersfield. I’m not proud of what happened but this is 36 years later and I’m still being punished for it.
I was Michael’s closest relative from this side of the family and the thought of not being there is killing me.
"It feels like someone has gone into my chest and ripped my heart out.”
After being notified of his visa confirmation, Gary also paid tribute to his son, Connor Elliott, who had emailed “dozens of messages” trying to get a response.
Connor, 23, a student at at Northumbria University, said: “His brother was everything to him. It’s was really hurting me to see him like that as it was breaking his heart not able to say goodbye.
"All the tears were from a build up of emotions from my uncle passing away, not being able to say goodbye, and then all the problems getting his visa. We were getting passed from pillar to post and I’m not sure this would have happened if it were not for the Gazette getting involved.”
The IRCC did respond to the situation with a statement which said: “On September 7, 2022, Mr Elliott’s electronic Travel Authorisation application, submitted on June 13, 2022, was approved by IRCC London. It is valid until September 6, 2027.”
Gary will now fly out to with sisters Linda, Lorraine, Jacqueline and Judy where they will meet other family members at Michael’s house in Toronto.
He added: “Everyone was so pleased when I told them I was now able to travel.”