Sochi 2014: Ice dancer Piper Gilles pushing for citizenship exemption

Friday, July 19, 2013

A bureaucratic buildup at Canada’s immigration office has Piper Gilles’ Sochi dreams on hold.

Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier competed for Canada at the world championships last season, but they may be reduced to spectators for the Sochi Olympics.

The American-born Gilles has applied for Canadian citizenship, but a bureaucratic buildup at Canada’s immigration office has the duo’s Sochi dreams on hold. Without the appropriate passport, athletes cannot compete at the Olympics.

“It’s a waiting game,” said Gilles, whose grandmother and mother are both Canadian citizens. “You literally give your life on a couple pieces of paper and you give it to these people, and then you don’t hear about it for a while. It’s just nerve-wracking because it’s this year and you don’t know.”

Gilles and Poirier, both 21, have been competing together for just two years. The normal process of residency and citizenship usually takes three years, says Gilles’ lawyer, Hart Kaminker.

He said it is “unlikely” she would get her passport by Jan. 14, 2014 – the cutoff to compete in Sochi if they qualify.

“I knew going in to skate with Paul that I would possibly change (citizenship), and I was all for it,” Gilles said. “When you’re young and your dream is to go to the Olympics and to go to worlds … I mean Paul already achieved some of that stuff so we knew, I knew that if I were to switch countries it would probably be for Canada.”

Different sets of rules allowed them to compete at the worlds, where they placed 18th in March. But for the Olympics, the duo needs two Canadian passports.

Gilles is hoping for an exemption under Section 5(4) of the Citizenship Act, which allows the Minister of Immigration to grant citizenship “to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada.”

It’s known as the “five-four citizenship.” In 2012, the ministry told the Star it’s been awarded 500 times since 1977, often to athletes. The ministry declined to comment on Gilles’ case ahead of consent.

Leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, Eugene Zhen Wang, a Chinese-born table tennis player, was granted his five-four citizenship to compete in the Games.

Fellow figure skater Kaitlyn Weaver got her five-four ahead of the Vancouver Games. Jamaican-born bobsledder Lascelles Brown, a brakeman for pilot Pierre Lueders, got his passport on the deadline before the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

The red tape leaves the pair in a race against the clock. It’s a gamble they’re both comfortable with because for them, their partnership means more than a chance to compete in Sochi.

“If the price is not going this time, that’s the case,” Poirier said of the upcoming Olympics, looking towards 2018. “For me, she’s the best chance I have.”

Toronto Star - Jeff Green, Sports Reporter

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