People still taking advantage of cross-border B.C. park to skip quarantine
VANCOUVER -- As COVID-19 cases continue to soar in both British Columbia and Washington State, many people continue to take advantage of an unwritten loophole that allows them to visit face-to-face with American friends and family without having to quarantine upon returning to Canada.
The Canadian side of Peace Arch Park has been close since June to stop people from flaunting public health orders with international visits.
But, the Washington state side of the park remains open, and Canadians can still freely access it by hopping a small ditch at Zero Avenue in Surrey.
In an email, a spokesperson for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission said the state had no plans to close the park.
“We flew from Calgary to see my parents who are waiting just over there and we’re going to do early Christmas with them,” said Michaela Johnson as she prepared to cross over Thursday.
Her parents flew into Washington state from their home north of Los Angeles.
“So this looks like the best or only way we’re going to be able to see them without quarantining,” said her husband Jay Johnson.
They may choose not to quarantine, but having spent time on the American side of the border they are legally required to do so.
“All persons who cross an international boundary line and then return to Canada should be reporting to the (Canada Border Services Agency),” CBSA spokesperson Mark Stuart wrote in an email to CTV News. “Failure to do so is breaking the law.”
He added that only people crossing the border for essential work may be eligible for an exemption to Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine rule.
However, on questions of enforcement, the CBSA deferred to the RCMP, saying border officers are only responsible for enforcing laws at designated ports of entry.
In response to questions about enforcement from CTV News, RCMP Sgt. Kris Clark acknowledged Peace Arch Park has posed some challenges during the pandemic because of its unique position straddling the border.
“The RCMP’s Federal Border Integrity Program has increased enforcement in the area," Clark wrote in an email. "Individuals returning to Canada after visiting the park are directed to claim any goods with the CBSA ... Any criminal activity will be dealt with accordingly and could lead to criminal charges, seizure, and/or forfeiture of any offence-related property.”
He also said people crossing the border at the park to circumvent public health orders and Quarantine Act requirements was concerning.
“Enforcement of the issue is ongoing and individuals who are found failing to comply with the order may be subject to fines,” he said.
A CTV News crew on the Canadian side of Zero Avenue saw numerous people pass back and forth on Thursday, many without being stopped or questioned.
An RCMP officer in a vehicle kept a watchful eye.
As CTV News looked on, one man who crossed was briefly stopped by a uniformed official before being allowed to continue.
Shiraz Alibhei said he was asked if he had anything to declare but was not reminded of the mandatory quarantine for anyone entering Canada.
“I just come here once a month or something and see my sister and my nephew,” he said. “We eat some food and then say goodbye.”
Under the latest provincial health orders, British Columbians are not supposed to socialize with people outside their own household, let alone the country.
“Everyone else has to follow the rules. This little loophole area shouldn’t be getting around that,” said Bill Cheney, a local resident who said the park visitors have created parking issues and increased litter in the neighbourhood adjacent to Zero Avenue.
As CTV News drove away from the park, we received an automated text message from the federal government with a reminder about the 14-day quarantine.
“Once you arrive at your final destination back in Canada, travel directly home — do not make stops,” it said.
But, unlike people visiting friends and relatives in the park, we had never left the country.