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Canadian sprinter Justyn Warner, his wife Natasha and daughter Parys pose in a photo provided by Warner.

The Canadian Press

Every evening at around 7:30, Justyn Warner curls up with a stack of storybooks to read to his three-year-old daughter Parys until she falls asleep.

Her favourite is The Little Red Caboose, and so every evening begins with that book.

Warner reads from his bedroom in Toronto. Parys is tucked into her bed in New Haven, Conn., watching and listening to her dad thanks to FaceTime and an iPad propped up on the bedside table.

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When Warner, a retired Olympic sprinter, moved home to Toronto a few weeks ago ahead of his wife, Natasha, and their daughter, little did he know COVID-19 would see them separated for two months and counting.

“It’s been really tough,” Warner said. “My daughter is struggling, everything is like, ‘I want daddy here. I wish you could come to our house. I wish I was up in Canada.’

“I keep saying, ‘Well, you guys are going to come here soon, but you can’t right now.“’

The 32-year-old from Markham, Ont., a member of Canada’s 4x100-metre relay team that won bronze at the 2015 world championships, met Natasha, a coach and former track athlete, while he was living and training in Phoenix, Ariz.

The three moved to Connecticut a couple of years ago to be closer to Natasha’s family. They planned to be settled in Toronto this summer. Warner relocated first to start a digital-marketing job. Natasha and their daughter would follow at the end of Parys’s preschool year.

And then the coronavirus closed the Canada-U.S. border.

Their story of separation is being played out across North America, particularly in border cities and towns, after the global pandemic led to a ban on non-essential travel between the U.S. and Canada.

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Parys has her Canadian citizenship. Natasha was in the process of applying for permanent residency, and needed to be finger-printed in the U.S. when things shut down.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the U.S. has agreed to extend the mutual ban on non-essential border crossings for another 30 days. The ban, which prohibits discretionary travel like vacations and cross-border shopping without restricting trade, commerce and essential employees, was set to expire Thursday until the U.S. agreed to Canada’s request to extend it to June 21.

Warner, who has a six-year-old son, Cadence, from a previous relationship, is unsure when his wife and daughter can join him Toronto. He has a green card, and hopes that’s enough to permit him to drive to New Haven in a few weeks to at least visit them.

But for now, the family has FaceTime. Parys, with her dolls lined up in the background, wakes up her dad through FaceTime at 6 each morning. They talk about their plans for the day. Parys shows Warner, a visual artist, her painting.

“But, she’s still trying to understand it and understand what’s going on, she doesn’t like this new normal, it’s tough for her,” he said.

A recent online poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that only 16 per cent of Canadian respondents want to see the border open by the end of June, while 47 per cent would prefer to wait until the end of the year.

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