Teenage surfing prodigy Erin Brooks has had her bid for Canadian citizenship turned down by the federal government.
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 had hoped to secure her citizenship and represent Canada at next year’s Paris Olympics. But the ongoing SNAFU means she has had to miss the Pan American Games, which opened Friday in Chile and offers the winner an Olympic berth.
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 favourite to earn 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 next year.
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 a 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.
Federal Court appeal
Surf Canada says Jeff Brooks intends to appeal the decision to Federal Court.
“She wants to surf [for Canada] because she wants to represent her family and her heritage,” Jeff said in an interview this week prior to the government’s decision. “And it’s just been an uphill battle … But I’m proud that she’s sticking to her guns and she wants to go through the complete process and give it everything she has.
The decision is a blow to both the Brooks family, which has already endured a lot.
Their home in Lahaina on Maui burned down during the recent wildfires and Brooks’s mother is battling cancer. The family now calls Tofino, B.C., home when not on the road nine to 10 months a year with Erin.
“Erin’s had a lot of things to deal with obviously,” Jeff said. “This [citizenship] is one that we have no control over, just like the cancer or the fire. Erin and I talked about it and said let’s just focus on the things we can control, which is the surfing and her training and keeping a positive mindset and being open to the outcome no matter what it is.”
“If it doesn’t get done in time, then we’re just going to have to sit back and re-evaluate where we’re at once this Olympic cycle passes,” he added. “It would definitely be a huge disappointment to miss out on the chance of the Olympics, especially after working so hard. I mean she’s the No. 2-seeded international surfer right now in the United States.
“Missing out on that opportunity as a 16-year-old would be pretty devastating. But at the same point, she knows she has a long career ahead of her.”
Lionel Conacher, president of Surf Canada, calls Erin “a generational talent” who would be a “wonderful addition to Team Canada.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee has also backed Erin’s bid for citizenship. COC CEO David Shoemaker said Erin 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 Erin to compete for Canada as her citizenship application had been filed, but not completed.
The ISA granted the request but changed its mind in June of this year, saying “this decision was taken incorrectly and not in accordance with the applicable ISA rules.”
The ISA suspended Erin’s 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 prevents Erin 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.
Offers from other countries
Erin has been contacted by other countries interested in her talents.
“She has had some very lucrative offers from other countries that she hasn’t even really taken a look at because she wants to represent Canada,” said Jeff. “I think the only way we would look at that is if the door to Canada was completely closed with some finality.”
He declined to say which countries had reached out.
But Erin’s grandmother, on her mother’s side, is a German citizen and there are also Italian ties. Jeff’s side of the family also has Irish bloodlines.
“There are definitely countries that are interested. And some countries, in this Olympic day and age, that we don’t even really have any ties to have reached out offering citizenship in return for joining their team,” he said.
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-related opening. But the Hawaii-based athlete wasn`t able to get there in time due to pandemic-related travel logistics.