Photo Credit: Pictured is Ryleigh (right) with her late Mother. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Pyne-Mercier)

Shawnigan Woman Pleads To Care For Her Orphaned Niece

What is an "orphan"?

Outdated immigration rules keep nine-year old from being cared for by family

Ryleigh Ridland is an orphaned nine-year-old girl who the federal government refuses to let come live with her family here in Canada.

It seems like an odd case to get anal about the rules – and it is.

Ryleigh was just seven when her mother died.

She was found alone in her home in South Africa, in above 40 C temperatures, with her mom’s body, who had been dead for days.

Barely alive, traumatized, crying and soiled when rescuers found her, she should have been brought to be with people who cared for her immediately.

But instead, she was placed in foster care. Despite her family fighting to bring her home, she has remained there for the past two years.

Her great aunt, Lisa Pyne-Mercier, is a Shawnigan Lake resident and is at a loss for what to do.

“I don’t believe the High Commission knows the full details of this case and didn’t read all the documents involved,” she told the Cowichan Valley Citizen.

“This situation is so incredibly unique that Canada has no laws around it.”

Ryleigh’s mother granted guardianship and full parental rights to aunt Pyne-Mercier in her will.

Despite this and Merciers desire to care for the girl, Canada refuses to treat Ryleigh as an “orphan.”


Because the guy who “fathered” her isn’t dead, but in terms of caring for Ryleigh, he might as well be.

Her biological father abandoned her and gave up all parental rights before her mother’s death.

Ryleigh meets the definition of an orphan under South African law due to her bio-fathers actions. Still, in Canada, our federal government apparently considers any old semen donor a quality parent.

“The best interests of this child are not being considered,” said Pyne-Mercier

To top this off, our government also doesn’t consider “great-aunt” to be a valid family tie. Again, despite the clear desire and ability on Mercier’s part to actually care for Ryleigh.

“Your sponsor does not meet one of the prescribed relationships as she is neither your sibling, your direct aunt as defined, nor your grandparent,” the High Commission said in a January letter to Ryleigh, which Pyne-Mercier shared with the Citizen.

Keep in mind this letter was being addressed to a 9-year-old child.

Family is–and has always been–about far more than blood, and Ottawa’s response is demonstrating a thought pattern too outdated for words.

In a court affidavit signed on Dec. 3, 2021, even Ryleigh’s bio-father stated Ryleigh would be best cared for in Canada with Pyne-Mercier.

“The most important reason to agree on this is that she will also be in a stable environment because the aunt is more than willing to take care of my daughter,” he said in the affidavit.

Pyne-Mercier has already spent more than $20,000 in her efforts to bring Ryleigh to her home in Shawnigan Lake.

Now think of how much the government spends paying their staff to repeatedly refuse to let Mercier take custody.

Sounds like a great use of tax dollars.

Not only this, but BC has Canada’s lowest birth rate, and the government is trying to change that – so why are the Feds putting all this effort into blocking a girl from growing up and being cared for here by a loving family?

Pyne-Mercier said she visited Ryleigh in South Africa last October, thinking she would finally be bringing her back to the Cowichan Valley.

A month passed, but the government still wouldn’t give the go-ahead for Ryleigh to come here, and she was forced to travel back to BC without her.

Pyne-Mercier said she has tried to contact Sean Fraser, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, to ask for help, but has gotten no response.

Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, is working to change the situation. He contacted Minister Fraser on Pyne-Mercier’s behalf.

“He’s doing all he can,” Pyne-Mercier said of MacGregor.

MacGregor told the Citizen he spoke with Minister Fraser in person about the issue.

Although Fraser can let the girl in, he’s currently backing up the decisions made by his ministry officials.

“There are two different laws in these cases in Canada and South Africa, and while South Africa does recognize Lisa as the legal guardian of Ryleigh, being the great aunt of Ryleigh just doesn’t fit the box in Canada,” MacGregor said.

“It’s heartbreaking, and I intend to work all avenues to bring Ryleigh here, but the law is what it is.”

Immigration rules are all about what boxes you fit in. Currently, Pyne-Mercier’s niece doesn’t fit in the correct box.

But these boxes are creating further trauma for a 9-year-old.

Ultimately, it sounds like a very old, dusty, and broken box that should be broken wide open.


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