Subscribe to our RSS feed

Denise Wozniak

Denise Wozniak

Infected HIV at age 29 in 1989, diagnosed with daughter 1994.  Diagnosed chronic PTSD.  Canadian.

Recipient: Queen Elizabeth II Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals.  Certified Speaking Coach. Hobby: Photography


Stopped at the border

Wednesday, 08 February 2017 Written by // Denise Wozniak Categories // Social Media, Denise Wozniak, Women, International , Living with HIV

Denise Wozniak:compares her own arrival to that of immigrants detained by a Trump order. "No matter what, human rights are not negotiable..."

Stopped at the border

My life in Canada as a new immigrant began on February 7, 1980. My meeting with immigration officials at the border was not as expected. I was held up for hours, but more about that later.

Three generations of my family: my grandparents,, my mother and myself all immigrated separately to Canada; strange but true.

My grandparents were from the north of England. My family included generations of farmers. Before his immigration, my grandfather worked briefly in a local quartz quarry and then became a cavalry man in World War I.

After the war, my grandfather had the choice of being part of the settlement plan in Canada or receiving a payment for his service.  He was given an acreage south of Calgary in a little town called Okotoks (not so “little” anymore). My grandparents packed up their belongings and set out for this new home in March 1927. My mother is to the left of the life ring in the front row.

When they arrived, they sent a letter home. It was snowy and cold but the neighbours had been inviting and even given them food to start them on their new venture.  Soon, Buckley’s Dairy of Okotoks had milk cows and my mother who was six years old and her brother helped deliver the milk with horse and cart before they rode their horses to school.

My mother grew up loving farm life. She met my father during World War II. He was a young Royal Air Force pilot who was in the Commonwealth Training Program across Canada and they married in Sidney, Vancouver Island.

"The recent developments of the U.S. detaining refugees make me feel sick for those involved. The knowledge that your family or your new home is just beyond the doors and that you might be sent back to who knows what.. Maybe death? Maybe torture?"

During the war, my father went to be part of a flight crew over the Atlantic and my mother gave birth to my sister Gayle, a Canadian citizen.  After the war, my mother travelled back to England with her mother and father. They literally “sold the farm” and journeyed with her and their grandchild Their family had grown and they were no longer able to run the farm on their own.

Some years passed before my brother and I were born. After a trip to Canada when I was eleven years old, I knew I had to return.  My parents broke up when I was 17. When my mother saw that I had a place of my own when I was 19, she decided to join her family again in Canada. It was not easy and she had to have her brother sponsor her because she was not born in Canada and had not lived there a full 21 years. She'd been just a year short of the full 21 years when she moved back to England with my father. My mother remained determined and moved back to Canada in her late 50’s, immediately got a job and was granted citizenship.

My boyfriend and I had been dating for two years when we became engaged. We both decided to make the move to Canada after we were married in June 1980. My future husband had a degree in business and I was a trained Executive Secretary. I applied to the Canadian Embassy in England to grant my immigration application in September 1979 and was asked to attend an immigration interview at the end of the following January.

When I talked to the Canadian Consulate at the interview I was informed that I had to be in Canada before my 21st birthday in order to be sponsored by my mother. It was in just a week’s time. I immediately looked into getting a plane ticket and was saddened to find it would cost me $2,000! Every penny I had. However, I knew that if we wanted a better life than in England, where there were six million unemployed, then we had to go through with our plans.

I landed in Calgary, Canada and met with the landed immigration department at the airport.  They asked why I had a return ticket and I explained I had no idea that I had to be in the country within a week and I already had previous plans to marry in June and come after that. This immediately set off alarm bells in the border immigration officer’s mind, despite my Canadian Embassy stamped immigration form which granted me entry.  

My mother was waiting for me with her family on the other side of the gate and I was told I was not allowed in and would have to return on the next flight to England. I was shocked and devastated. The thought of another ten hour flight and never being allowed in again, after planning and all the money I had spent - I sat and cried at the thought. I was sick to my stomach at how my life journey was hinging on this airport decision.

My mother was finally allowed in to confirm that I had been dating for over two years and that my story was true. The immigration official said I would have to report to the immigration department in Calgary the next day and have my documents reviewed. Finally, I was allowed in at 2 a.m.

The next day I went to Calgary Immigration Department and they said not to worry at all and everything was in order!

When you are told there is an open door to welcome you to a new country and you arrive at the country’s airport, tired and looking forward to once again seeing your family, it is beyond confusing and miserable to find that you will be sent back. The life I was coming was that of a young person who was not rich but I was from a country not unlike Canada.

The recent developments of the U.S. detaining refugees make me feel sick for those involved. The knowledge that your family or your new home is just beyond the doors and that you might be sent back to who knows what.. Maybe death? Maybe torture? Maybe living in a refugee camp? With children and older people? Where is the compassion, the caring, the kindness, the acceptance of diversity? The understanding of people already suffering?

No matter what, human rights are not negotiable and our culture makes Canada respected throughout the world. As a Canadian citizen now, I am honored and proud. I love the diversity of this amazing country. Peace and tolerance. It was worth fighting for in two world wars and is worth uniting for now.