'This is really our only option': B.C. families react to new border exemptions
SOUTH SURREY, B.C. -- The Wahl family has not been all together since Christmas, and despite recently announced changes to the closure of the Canada-U.S. border, they don't expect to be able to fully reunite any time soon.
Still, the family was delighted to gather at Peace Arch Park Saturday afternoon for breakfast.
“It’s wonderful,” said Pam Wahl. “Wonderful to be with my two sons, their beautiful wives and my grandbaby.”
Her husband, Brian, echoed her sentiment.
“We miss them a lot and FaceTime and those kinds of things just isn’t enough,” he said.
One of their sons drove nine hours from Moses Lake, Wash., just to meet for breakfast.
“Because we live on both sides of the border, (the park) is really our only option,” said Brian Wahl.
In March, when the border restrictions came into place, families who live on either side were separated, not qualifying as essential travel. On Friday, the Canadian government announced new exemptions that will begin Oct. 8.
“These measures will include people in an exclusive, long-term relationship, and their dependent children, as well as non-dependent children, grandchildren, siblings, and grandparents,” said federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marco Mendicino, announcing the changes. “It’s our commitment to try get these processes in place as quickly as possible.”
There are also exemptions for international students and for compassionate visits.
For the Santiago family in Whistler, the new exemptions can’t come soon enough. Charlie Santiago has been given just weeks to live, and her dying wish is to be reunited with her sister, who lives in the Philippines.
“She cracked a smile today and she’s getting excited as well,” said her husband, Arthur. “I can see her facial expressions of excitement and being happy.”
For those travelling for a compassionate visit, there is the potential for a limited quarantine, but such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. For everyone else, the 14-day quarantine remains, so visitors using this exemption must commit to a minimum 15-day stay.
“The quarantine is still going to be a deterrent to many of these individuals who fall under these new exemptions,” said immigration attorney Len Saunders. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
He said what’s nice about these new exemptions is that they include couples who are separated but are not married.
“In the past, you either had to show you were common law with a Canadian partner, which is hard to show,” said Saunders. “If individuals live on either side of the border, they’re not common law. Now that there’s this notorized declaration which you can make saying that you have been in a relationship with a Canadian for more than a year, there’s another exemption for family members.”
With the quarantine order still in place for most visitors, the Wahl family says the exemptions won’t work for them.
“The hardest part of this is starting in March I was supposed to babysit my grandson at least two days a month,” said Pam. “My daughter-in-law works at the hospital in Bellingham, and she had depended on myself, the mother-in-law, and her mother to do all of the babysitting.”
Pam Wahl is a dual citizen and a nurse in Abbotsford.
“It would be so nice to self-monitor,” she said, referencing the step some essential services workers have been allowed to take instead of quarantining after crossing the border.
“My daughter-in-law’s mother cannot even cross the border because she’s just Canadian,” she said.
For now, at least, the family can continue to meet at Peace Arch Park to be together, while others can explore whether the new exemptions would work to allow them to travel north.