VANCOUVER — Sometimes, Qia Gunster feels invisible. The teen has no birth certificate. No country recognizes him as a citizen.
Born 18 years ago on a couch in Tucson, Ariz., Qia made the trip to B.C. with his mother as a one-year-old, crossing the border into Canada with no identification or U.S. records to confirm his place of birth.
“It is like I was born on the moon,” he said from Prince George, where he’s studying to become an electrician.
Growing up in McBride, ID didn’t matter much. But as he stands on the brink of adulthood, it has suddenly become important. Without a social insurance number, he can’t become a fully qualified electrician.
“To get a job, to get a driver’s licence, to travel anywhere outside Canada, I need ID,” he said.
Qia’s adoptive dad, Eric Gunster, said Qia’s mom came to B.C. with her boyfriend in the mid-1990s. They had acquaintances in McBride, where they lived in a bus. She worried about returning to the U.S., fearing that as a poor single mom, her baby could be taken by authorities.
Eric said Qia’s mom made the heart-wrenching decision to leave Qia with his family.
“We liked kids,” he said. “We already had four kids. We wanted to help out.”
Qia grew up with the Gunster kids, who were home-schooled on their ranch outside McBride. The family tried to legally adopt the boy, but without a birth certificate, ran into trouble.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada became involved. Eric recalls travelling to Vancouver with his kids for a hearing, thinking Qia might be deported: “We went in, me and my wife and all the kids, and the man saw that Qia was just a boy. He was surprised, and he said we could go.”
After that, Eric asked a lawyer to look at Qia’s file, but the man eventually returned it, unable to help.
The family was also in touch with Qia’s birth mother, who tried unsuccessfully to get him an Arizona birth certificate.
The Province contacted the Arizona Department of Health Services. A spokeswoman said there is a protocol for getting a delayed birth certificate, even in the case of a home birth. She couldn’t comment on specific cases.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada was also unable to comment on Qia’s case except to say “people in Canada without status are here illegally and should take steps to obtain legal status or else they are subject to removal by the Canada Border Services Agency.”
Qia has lived almost his entire life in northern B.C. The Gunsters eventually divorced, and Qia chose to live with his dad. The McBride School District allowed him to attend classes. The boy was rarely sick and had to visit the hospital only once or twice. Eric paid the bills.
Qia’s school principal has played an important role in his quest for citizenship, which has also come to involve Prince George-Peace River MP Bob Zimmer. The politician’s office confirmed it has been working with Qia to obtain status.
Qia is now just months away from completing his apprenticeship and achieving his Grade 12 diploma.
“I’m just as confused as anyone about this,” he said. “How can someone get into this situation and have no way out?”