ICYMI: Stateless Prince George man one step closer to citizenship

No longer falling through the cracks:

Qia Gunster is one step closer to being Canadian.

The 20-year-old Prince George man has lived in B.C. since he was a baby, but has never been recognized by his country.

As a “stateless person,” Gunster has been unable to get government identification, which means he couldn’t legally work, drive a car or travel.

But this week, Citizenship and Immigration Canada granted Gunster permanent resident status and he will finally be able to get a driver’s licence. He will also be able to get a social insurance number, so he can work and pay taxes.

He won’t be able to apply for Canadian citizenship for another four years.

“It’s pretty awesome — my whole outlook on the future has changed,” Gunster said Thursday.

“It makes everything easier.”

Gunster was born in Arizona, but his mother didn’t register his birth and when he was 18 months old, she crossed the border into B.C. with him. She left her baby in McBride, east of Prince George, where he was raised by a friend of a friend.

Being without ID wasn’t a significant problem until he finished high school. With help from a large circle of supporters, Gunster was able to earn a living. He is partway through his apprenticeship as an electrician and has found employers willing to pay in cash.

But Gunster still faced many limitations. He needed a birth certificate even to begin the process of applying to the federal government for citizenship.

The school principal got involved, and his adoptive families tried to help. Even the local MP contacted Arizona government officials in an attempt to get Gunster a birth certificate.

Despite stacks of paperwork, and a DNA test proving he is the son of an Arizona resident, the state has refused to issue the document.

Late last year, Michelle Quigg, a lawyer with North Vancouver-based Access Pro Bono, got involved with Qia’s case. She succeeded in getting Gunster permanent residency status, but she intends to press the government to grant him citizenship sooner under a section of the Immigration Act that allows it for “exceptional circumstances.”

Gunster, meanwhile, is making plans. He is going to get his driver’s licence and apply for jobs as an electrical apprentice at any company who’s hiring. He can go to a bar and no longer worry about being asked to prove his age. He can apply for a credit card.

“When you’re stateless, the options are so limited — you can’t work unless you know the right people,” he said.

“Basically I was stuck in a black hole that I couldn’t get out of, and now I have a world of opportunities.”