While border rules restrict non-essential travel, Canadians hoping to see their loved ones in the United States have found a "lifeline."
The U.S. side of Peace Arch park remains open and dozens of tents have been set up there daily to facilitate the meeting of separated families.
“The park has been the only way for us to connect in person, and it’s better than not being able to meet at all,” said a Langley therapist, who wishes to remain unnamed.
The 55-year-old has been meeting her Bellingham-based partner there during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The people congregating at the park come from all walks of life and backgrounds and yet, we’re all bonded by a longing for connection with our loved ones in a very tumultuous time,” she told Vancouver Is Awesome.
Loophole sees Canadians not subject to quarantine
Since the B.C. side of Peace Arch park closed in June, there has been controversy over the continued operation of its Washington State counterpart.
“Canadians and Americans who enter the park and return to the country from which they entered the park have technically not made entry to the other country and therefore are not processed by immigration authorities,” explained U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Jason Givens.
For that reason, residents like John Kageorge have been outspoken about the lack of RCMP officers enforcing mandatory quarantine periods to Canadians returning from the park.
“It is more dangerous than I have ever seen it,” said Kageorge. “Multiple gatherings are happening routinely – including reunions, birthday parties, and even weddings.”
RCMP begins bag checks, says park visitor
A few weeks ago, the RCMP started to check identification and bags as I exited the park,” the Langley resident told Vancouver Is Awesome.
"It’s surreal, and to know that people are watching from their windows and shaming people like myself makes it all the more difficult. However... we are committed to health because we are loving people who have zero interest in endangering our loved ones or others."
Mother says tent meet-ups ‘preserve mental health’
Lila Quezada, 59, said the park has provided a safer option for her and her husband to meet with their daughter, who lives in the U.S.
“In the early spring, we met along Double Ditch Road, forced to yell at each other over the ditch as cars roared by honking at us. It was sometimes dangerous, often uncomfortable, and always inconvenient,” said the mother, who suffers from early-onset Parkinson’s disease.
“When we became aware of the ‘loophole’ of the American side of Peace Arch Park that is accessible to Canadian visitors, it was like a gift from God. This park has played a big part in preserving the mental health of thousands of international families who have borne the brunt of restrictive COVID regulations… it has quite literally been our lifeline.”
Canadians can apply to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada for an exemption to cross the U.S. to see their loved ones but Quezada emphasized long processing times before approval.
No known COVID-19 cases linked to park
Quezada emphasized that no known COVID-19 cases have been linked to the park, something which Dr. Bonnie Henry, herself, confirmed last week.
The mother said visiting with her daughter, with only a tent to protect them from cold weather, zaps much of her strength.
“I tremble violently for much of each visit. But what alternative do we have? It is better to meet occasionally in a tent than not to be able to meet at all," Quezada told Vancouver Is Awesome.
“We are not asking for open borders. We are just asking to be together," she said.