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Orphaned 10-year-old South African girl finally allowed to come to B.C.

After 4-year battle, Ryleigh Ridland will live with her great aunt in Shawnigan Lake

An orphaned 10-year-old South African girl whose great aunt has been trying to bring to her home on Vancouver Island for almost four years has finally been granted permanent residence status in Canada.

Lisa Pyne-Mercier, who is originally from South Africa and now lives in Shawnigan Lake, said she received an email from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on Jan. 31 stating the decision was made to allow her great neice Ryleigh Ridland to emigrate to Canada, and she now has 50 days to prepare her passport and complete other bureaucratic paperwork.


“This is the best news we have received in a long time,” Pyne-Mercier said.

“I’m hoping to go fetch her in South Africa in June after all the paperwork is complete. We haven’t told her yet because she must think everyone has been lying to her about her coming her for years now, so I want all the paperwork done and her passport in hand before we tell her.”

Before the surprise email from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that Pyne-Mercier received Wednesday morning, the Federal Court had agreed to hold a hearing to consider conducting a judicial review on Feb. 29 in Vancouver to reassess the decision made in early 2023 of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to turn down the application from Ryleigh to emigrate to Canada.

Pyne-Mercier said she thinks that some government official must have realized a mistake had been made in this case, and decided to forgo the hearing into the matter and grant Ryleigh permanent residence status in Canada.

Ryleigh’s life has been in turmoil since her single mother, Jackie Ridland, died early in 2021 in her remote house in South Africa, and Ryleigh, who was seven at the time, spent several days alone in the home with her mom in temperatures that exceeded 40 C before being discovered.

Ryleigh was clinging to life, and she was traumatized, scared, angry, dehydrated, soiled, and crying when her rescuers finally arrived.


After recovering from her physical and emotional trauma, Ryleigh was placed in temporary foster care.

After more than a year and half of ongoing efforts, and an enormous amount of money in legal and other fees, Pyne-Mercier was finally granted guardianship and full parental rights to Ryleigh by South Africa and she was confident that the Canadian government would allow Ryleigh to emigrate to her new home in Shawnigan Lake.

But the High Commission of Canada in South Africa turned down Ryleigh’s applications for permanent residence status in Canada and a study permit in early January last year, stating that Ryleigh didn’t qualify to emigrate, even though Pyne-Mercier had been granted guardianship and full parental rights.

The High Commission said that although Ryleigh meets the definition of an orphan under South African law due to abandonment by her biological father, she is not considered an orphan under Canadian law because her father is still alive, even though Ryleigh’s father waived all his parental rights to her in the divorce with her mother.

Left in limbo, Ryleigh has continued to live in South Africa’s foster-care system since then while Pyne-Mercier kept up her long and frustrating fight to bring her here.

“We went to see Ryleigh at Christmas time and she’s doing OK in her foster home where she is being looked after well, but with five and six other foster kids in the house as well, it’s not easy for her to get the attention she needs,” Pyne-Mercier said before receiving the good news from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on Jan. 31.

“It’s been four years and nothing has happened, so you can imagine what’s going on in the mind of a 10-year-old child who must be thinking that everyone is lying to her. We really want her to come here.”

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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