By Pat Grubb

Effects expected to be minimal for Point Roberts after Canada opens its borders to the U.S.

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At long last, Canada will allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to enter Canada for non-essential purposes beginning August 9. The U.S., which had earlier appeared willing to open its border as early as June 22, extended its closure order until at least August 21, 518 days since the border was first closed.

As usual, the announcement left many people scratching their heads wondering how it would affect them personally. Travelers entering Canada for non-essential travel will need to be fully vaccinated with one of Canada’s approved vaccines, present a negative molecular Covid-19 test result taken within 72 hours of their arrival and have proof of vaccination uploaded to the ArriveCan app. They may or may not be asked to take another test at the border. They will also need to present a quarantine plan and be prepared to quarantine should they not satisfy all of the conditions required to be exempt.

What isn’t clear is, how does this apply to U.S. residents who are merely seeking to enter Canada for a day trip? And, up to now, U.S. residents who lived on the mainland and wanted to transit Canada to come to Point Roberts were denied entry unless they satisfied a vague and seemingly subjective description of essential travel. Presumably, they will need to satisfy Canadian requirements for both legs of their travel to and from Point Roberts. Under these conditions, it will be unrealistic to expect a significant increase in visits to the Point by non-residents.

If they thought their workaround would be to take the ferry from Bellingham to the Point, another think is in order. The Port of Bellingham issued a press release at 1:57 p.m. today, July 22, saying the service would be shut down after its last sailing on August 12. In a July 21 email, the All Point Bulletin asked port executive director Rob Fix if the port had any knowledge of how the Canadian border authorities (CBSA) were going to regulate traffic to and from Point Roberts, both by Point residents and those from the mainland.

Fix was asked if CBSA will “allow travelers who don’t live in Point Roberts to transit through Canada for non-essential reasons? Will these travelers be allowed to transit without fulfilling the same conditions mentioned above? … Does the port know how CBSA intends to deal with Point Roberts residents who wish to go into B.C. for non-essential reasons? Will they be required to satisfy the requirements? If so, travel into B.C. by Point residents would remain highly restricted and limited in scope.”

The email concluded by suggesting that Point Roberts residents would be “curious to know the basis of the Port’s decision to cancel the ferry service before the border was fully opened.” No reply has been received by press time.

The failure of the U.S. federal government to at least match the Canadian’s decision to allow fully vaccinated residents to enter the country was met with widespread criticism by politicians and citizens alike. In a statement issued yesterday, Governor Jay Inslee said, “I am extremely disappointed by the federal government’s announcement today that the U.S. border with Canada will remain closed through at least August 21. This continued closure will result in continued hardship for Washingtonians living in border communities, including in Point Roberts.

“As I have expressed repeatedly in communications with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, the time has come to at least partially reopen the U.S.-Canada border, and I will continue to advocate for relief for border communities in Washington state.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene was scathing in her reaction:

“I am deeply disappointed in the Biden administration’s decision to unilaterally extend the Canada-U.S. border closure another month. This action is short-sighted and devastating to our border communities. Businesses and families in Whatcom County, particularly in Point Roberts, were praying this was the month the border would reopen. Continuing the border closure all but ensures more businesses will close and more livelihoods will be destroyed along the border.

“Right now, Canadians can fly from Vancouver to Seattle but residents in the border town of White Rock cannot drive the short distance south across the border to Blaine. Instead of helping them build back better, we’re putting our border communities at a significant disadvantage. Canada on the other hand is showing leadership by announcing it will begin easing border restrictions for fully vaccinated Americans traveling north on August 9 and providing firm benchmarks and metrics behind their decision.

It’s time for the U.S. to reopen the Canada-U.S. border,” DelBene concluded.

The partial re-opening of the Canadian border may face some headwinds from a strike vote currently underway by the union representing over 8,500 CBSA officers. The officers have been without a contract since mid-2018 and the natives are getting restless. If over 50 percent vote in favor of strike action, they could begin to create chaos at the border by early next month. Customs and Immigration Union national president Mark Weber was quoted by the CBC as saying, “Potentially, it could slow things down. We're not doing it with any kind of joy because we really want the borders to run smoothly. We've been working so hard for a year and a half to keep them running smoothly under probably the most difficult circumstances any of us have ever encountered.”

Officers wouldn’t need to actually walk off the job to bring traffic to a crawl. A typical union move is “work to rule” whereby workers follow procedures exactly as written. Bought a tank of gas while in the States? Go in and pay duty.

In other Covid-19 news, Point Roberts fire chief Christopher Carleton announced that Covid testing would now take place on Wednesdays as well as Sundays thereby opening up the number of days that residents would then be eligible to enter Canada.

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