As the pandemic continues to sweep the United States, Canadians are increasingly concerned about what American tourists can bring with them across the border.
Built directly on the borders of Blaine, Washington and Surrey, British Columbia, the 67-foot (20-meter) High Peace Gate is testament to the close ties between Canada and the US.
Inscribed on one side were the words “this month the door never closes”, a reminder of the nearly 8,891 km (5,525 miles) of the un-military border separating the two countries.
For nearly 100 years, those words came to the headlines – until the coronavirus pandemic closed the border indefinitely.
The shutdown took effect March 21 and has been agreed to by both governments. After being renewed several times over the summer, it remains in effect until August 21 – although most expect it to be renewed again.
Len Saunders, a twin citizen living in Blaine, said: “I never thought I would sit here in mid-August and that border is still closed.
“It just seemed to go on forever.”
Although the border closure has had significant economic and personal consequences for the millions of people living along it or having loved ones on the other side, the vast majority of Canadians want it to close. .
A July poll by Ipsos Reid found eight out of ten Canadians want the border to close until at least the end of 2020.
And as the pandemic continues to spread across the United States, tensions between American drivers and Canadian residents also increase.
While non-essential travel is prohibited, commercial drivers who deliver goods and people doing essential services across borders are allowed to cross.
American license plate holders report harassment and damage to their vehicle, even if they have every right to stand on Canada’s side.
Mr. Saunders, an immigration lawyer with many clients who regularly cross the border for work, says many are scared.
“They were all scared to drive their cars in the subcontinent because of the vandalism, filthy looks and being considered ‘horrible Americans’,” he told the BBC.
One of his clients, an architect authorized to practice in Canada during the decommissioning period, said he was being asked to “go home” for his car.
The tensions were so high that British Columbia Premier John Horgan suggested that Canadians with US license plates should ride a bus or ride a bicycle.
In the Muskoka region of Ontario, where many have summer homes, hostility has attracted the attention of the police.
Ontario Provincial Police said a Canadian in the town of Huntsville had filed a complaint after two men allegedly charged him with his Florida license plates.
“Most recently this weekend, a man came to Huntsville to refuel in his car, and two men came up to him and said, ‘You are home.’ And he said, “I’m Canadian. I live here. “And they literally say, no, we don’t believe you show us your passport,” Phil Harding, mayor of nearby Lake Kuskoka, told CP24.
“It just became a little aggressive, and they feared for their own lives a little.”
Tightened border security has also led to a number of notable arrests.
In Grand Forks, British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mountain Police spent more than two hours chasing a man who was believed to have crossed a river illegally in a stolen car on July 24. The “float chase” ended as the river narrowed, when police, with the help of bystanders, were able to wade into the river and escort him back to shore.
Fees are pending, but anyone found to violate the border limits can be fined up to C $ 750,000 ($ 566,000; £ 434,000) and sentenced to six months in prison or US $ 1 million and three years if their actions “pose an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm”.
Those hefty fines aren’t just for those who intentionally break the rules.
On Wednesday, police warned Americans participating in an annual drop into the St Claire River near the Michigan border that even accidentally crossing Canada could result in a very hefty fine. In 2016, during a more carefree time, Canadian police simultaneously escorted about 1,500 people drifting towards the United States after the wind blew them away.
However, the impact of the border closure on small towns along both sides is negligible.
Before the coronavirus, about 300,000 people crossed the border every day, including Canadians who routinely walked during the day to reach an agreement at U.S. malls or gas stations, and American tourists examined the Niagara Falls wonders.
Since March, non-commercial land cross-border activities to Canada have fallen by almost 95 percent, according to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
“It will ruin everything there,” said Saunders.
But the economic impact of border closures on tourists is nothing compared to what would have happened to Canada if another wave of coronavirus was forced to close a second time, says Ambarish Chandra, professor of economics at Dai. study Toronto, said.
“This travel has a lot of economic impact on the community where tourists go,” he said.
“But given the pandemic in America, and the number of cases there, it makes a lot of sense to restrict travel to the US – possibly indefinitely.”
Professor Chandra said that the government should provide aid to border towns whose economies are mainly dependent on foreign tourism, but keep stable with border closures until the pandemic ends.
“In the long run, it will be cheaper to bail out the entire Niagara Falls, Ontario than closing Toronto in three or four weeks,” he said.
After months of shutting down most businesses, coronavirus infections in Canada are declining and the country is in the process of reopening its economy. The daily cases fell from a high of 2,760 on May 3 to a few hundred.
- The US and other countries … have disturbed the reopening?
Restaurants and shops have been open for at least a few weeks in most major cities, and incidents are still on a downward trend so far.
Meanwhile, the United States is trying to fix its outburst, hitting a peak of 75,821 on July 17 and seeing around 40,000 new cases per day.
Coronavirus: USA vs Canada
Those numbers are what drives many Canadians’ discomfort with American tourists.
Jim Willett, the mayor of Coutts, said: “Montana is just south of us, is having a second spike and I don’t feel sorry for anyone blocked at the border, go ahead.” That way “Alberta.
“I’m afraid if we open the border too soon, we could have more problems like what’s going on in the south.”
His town is one of five border towns where US residents to Alaska can enter Canada, since the CBSA destroyed the so-called “Alaska loophole” in late July.
- Is the pandemic getting worse in the US?
- Can California’s economy survive the most recent spike?
Since Alaska has no borders with other US states, Americans have to drive through Canada, so there will be a “loophole”.
After the border closed, many expressed concern that drivers used the loophole to explore some of the country’s most beautiful locations, such as Vancouver Island and Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise.
In June, RCMP issued seven $ 1,200 ($ 906, £ 694) tickets for each American who violated the rules while touring in Alberta.
“Don’t get over it. Go straight to Alaska,” Premier Horgan said at a press conference in July.
Complaints about vulnerabilities and lack of enforcement have led to the crackdown.
At the end of July, the border regulator announced that visitors to Alaska with only a limited number of entry points had to take the most direct route to their destination, and must display a pass on their vehicle. designate them as the US driver traveling to the northern state.
They are also limited to “reasonable length of stay” in Canada, and banned from visiting national parks, entertainment venues and other tourist locations, with those who violate the rules faced severe punishment.
Since tougher rules have been enacted, Mr. Willett said he is not “too worried” about cross-border traffic.
“[We] Get pretty many people through all the time day and night. Most of them are quite cooperative, “he said.