Teenage surfing prodigy Erin Brooks has won her fight for Canadian citizenship, opening the door for her to compete for Canada at the Paris Olympics.
The 16-year-old Brooks was born in Texas and grew up in Hawaii but has Canadian ties through her American-born father Jeff, who is a dual American-Canadian citizen, and her grandfather who was born and raised in Montreal.
Brooks’ citizenship bid was initially turned down. But Immigration Minister Marc Miller had a change of heart after a December ruling by Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice that it is unconstitutional for Canada to deny automatic citizenship to the children of foreign-born Canadians who grew up abroad.
The Brooks family then refiled its application under a hardship status, based on the recommendation of the Immigration Department, to accelerate the process.
“I love Canada. I have never been prouder to wear the Maple Leaf,” Erin Brooks said in a statement released by the family. ”To Minister Marc Miller and MP Jenny Kwan, you have changed my life. I believe that I will do something truly special for my country thanks to your gift of citizenship.”
Kwan, the NDP’s immigration critic, helped advocate for Brooks.
Lawyer Don Chapman, who has spent years working to change the existing citizenship laws, broke the news to the young surfer by phone.
“She just broke down in tears She was just so excited ” Jeff Brooks said from California where his daughter had been competing. “It was a really special moment.”
- MP Jenny Kwan tells federal immigration minister to help Erin Brooks surf for Canada
- Federal government denies teenage surfing prodigy’s bid for Canadian citizenship
The last opportunity to qualify for the Olympics is at the ISA World Championships in Puerto Rico in February.
Brooks is considered by many a potential challenger for a medal at the Olympics due to the heavy left-hand barrel conditions at Teahupo’o in Tahiti, where the Olympic surfing event is being held.
She won a silver medal at the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador in June and gold at the ISA World Junior Championships in June 2022.
Dom Domic, Surf Canada’s executive director, welcomed the citizenship news.
“After over four years, it looks like the Brooks’ finally have their happy ending,” he said in an email. “I am personally over the moon that Minister Miller will make right the past wrongs and finally our lost Canadians will officially be welcomed home to where they have always belonged.”
Canada’s citizenship laws are complex, with amendments changing the rules in 2009 and 2015. But essentially Bill C-37 in 2009 ended the extension of citizenship to second-generations born abroad.
In an October letter explaining its decision not to grant a “discretionary grant of citizenship,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says Brooks did not meet the requirements.
“The application is refused on the basis that the applicant is not stateless, has not experienced special or unusual hardship or provided services of an exceptional value to Canada which warrants a discretionary grant of Canadian citizenship,” the letter stated.
It was the latest in a series of setbacks for the Brooks family.
Their home in Lahaina on Maui burned down during the recent wildfires and Brooks’ mother is battling cancer. The family now calls Tofino, B.C., home when not on the road nine to 10 months a year with their daughter.
The Canadian Olympic Committee also backed Brooks’ bid for citizenship with CEO David Shoemaker saying the teenager has demonstrated “her sincere commitment to compete for Canada and to be Canadian.”
In March 2022, Surfing Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee petitioned the International Surfing Association (ISA) to allow Brooks to compete for Canada as her citizenship application had been filed, but not completed.
The ISA granted the request but changed its mind last June, saying “this decision was taken incorrectly and not in accordance with the applicable ISA rules.”
The ISA suspended Brooks’ eligibility to compete for Canada, saying it would re-evaluate the decision if “proof of citizenship with a verified document from the Canadian government, was provided.
That prevented Brooks from competing at the Pan Am Games and the ISA World Championships. She has continued to compete in the World Surf League’s Qualifying Series.
Brooks has been contacted by other countries interested in her talents.
Her grandmother, on her mother’s side, is a German citizen and there are also Italian ties. Her father’s side of the family also has Irish bloodlines.
Canada failed to qualify a surfer for the Tokyo Olympics, where surfing made its debut at the games.
Canadian Cody Young did get a last-minute call-up to the Tokyo games due to a COVID 19-related opening. But the Hawaii-based athlete wasn`t able to get there in time due to pandemic-related travel logistics.
The Brooks family leaves Monday for Hawaii to continue Brooks’ training. After next month’s competition in Puerto Rico, she is due to travel to Australia and Fiji.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2024