Teenage surfing talent Erin Brooks has won her fight for Canadian citizenship, opening the door for her to compete for Canada at the Paris Olympics.
Brooks, 16, was born in Texas and raised in Hawaii, but has Canadian ties through her American-born father Jeff, a dual US-Canadian citizen, and her grandfather, who was born and raised in Montreal.
Brooks' application for citizenship was initially denied. But Immigration Minister Mark Miller changed his mind after a ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last December that it was unconstitutional for Canada to deny automatic citizenship to the children of foreign-born Canadians who grew up abroad.
The Brooks then resubmitted their application under hardship status, at the recommendation of the Immigration Service, to speed up the process.
“I love Canada. I have never felt more proud to wear a maple leaf,” Erin Brooks said in a statement released by the family. “To Minister Mark Miller and Representative Jenny Cowan, you have changed my life. I believe I will do something truly special for my country with your gift of citizenship.”
Cowan, the NDP's immigration critic, helped defend Brooks.
Canadian Erin Brooks has been granted Canadian citizenship after being reconsidered by the Minister of Immigration. Erin Brooks is a 16-year-old surfing prodigy who has worked hard her whole life for the opportunity to compete for Canada in the Olympics. 1/ pic.twitter.com/fbhkT5uaEW
Author Don Chapman, who has spent years working to change current citizenship laws, broke the news to the young surfer by phone.
“She broke down in tears. She was so excited,” said Jeff Brooks from California, where his daughter was competing. “It was a really special moment.”
The last chance to qualify for the Olympics is at the ISA World Championships in Puerto Rico in February.
She won silver at the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador in June and gold at the ISA World Junior Championships in June 2022.
Dom Domecq, CEO of Surf Canada, welcomed the citizenship news.
“After more than four years, it appears the Brooks family has finally gotten their happy ending,” he said in an email. “I personally am thrilled that Minister Miller will right the wrongs of the past, and finally our missing Canadians will be officially welcomed home where they have always belonged.”
Brooks' long road to Canadian citizenship
Canadian citizenship laws are complex, with amendments changing the rules in 2009 and 2015. But Bill C-37 in 2009 essentially ended citizenship for second generations born abroad.
In a letter sent in October explaining its decision not to grant a Discretionary Grant of Citizenship, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said Brooks did not meet the requirements.
It was the latest in a series of setbacks for the Brooks family.
Their home in Lahaina, Maui, burned down during the recent wildfires, and Brooks' mother is suffering from cancer. The family now calls Tofino, British Columbia, home when not on the road for nine to 10 months a year with their daughter.
The Canadian Olympic Committee also supported Brooks' bid for citizenship, with CEO David Shoemaker saying the teen demonstrated her “sincere commitment to competing for Canada and being Canadian.”
In March 2022, Surfing Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee petitioned the International Surfing Association (ISA) to allow Brooks to compete for Canada where her citizenship application had been submitted, but not completed.
The ISA suspended Brooks' eligibility to compete in favor of Canada, saying it would re-evaluate the decision if “proof of citizenship with a Canadian government-verified document” is provided.
This prevented Brooks from competing in the Pan Am Games and the ISA World Championships. She continued to compete in the World Surf League qualifying series.
Brooks' talents are in demand
Brooks has been contacted by other countries interested in her talents.
Her maternal grandmother is a German citizen and also has Italian connections. Her father's side of the family also has Irish lineage.
Canada failed to qualify a surfer for the Tokyo Olympics, where surfing made its debut at the Games.
Canadian Cody Young earned a last-minute call-up to the Tokyo Games due to a COVID-19-related opening. But the Hawaii-based athlete couldn't get there in time due to pandemic-related travel logistics.
Brooks' family leaves Monday for Hawaii to continue Brooks' training. After competing next month in Puerto Rico, she is scheduled to travel to Australia and Fiji.