‘We’re suffering and they don’t care’: No border travel exemption for Point Roberts

Residents of Point Roberts, WA. who’ve been landlocked by the Canada-U.S. border since the 49th parallel crossing was closed to non-essential travel in March are frustrated to learn newly eased restrictions don’t apply to them.

“We’re suffering and they don’t care,” Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce president Brian Calder told Global News Saturday.

“It’s ludicrous… the last thing we ever want is to carry COVID or infect anybody else.”

On Friday, Ottawa announced it was relaxing the rules for the border towns of Stewart, B.C., Hyder, AK., Campobello Island, N.B. and The Northwest Angle of Minnesota.

Residents of those four isolated communities can now enter the nearest Canadian or American community for essential grocery shopping and medical appointments without having to quarantine for 14 days upon entry to Canada.

Hyder, AK. has no road access to the United States and before the COVID-19 pandemic, residents had crossed freely into Stewart, B.C. for more than a century.

But the change does not include Point Roberts, the tiny Washington state peninsula surrounded by water on three sides, and the Canadian border to the north.

“Why were we left off the list? I mean, were the only exclave now left,” said Calder.

Point Roberts also lacks road access to the U.S. and its fire chief has been pleading for a special exemption for months — even writing a letter to U.S. president Donald Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and state and provincial authorities in his quest to get the rules amended.

“I think just treatment of all these locations is very important for those communities and those residents to survive,” said Chief Christopher Carleton of Whatcom County Fire District 5.

“Our community is a ghost town.”

Point Roberts’ approximately 1,300 full-time residents are dependent on transit through Canada to access goods and services, according to Carleton.

Since mid-summer, the Chamber of Commerce said the community has been paying $40,000 per month for a twice weekly boat shuttle to Bellingham.

Residents have five hours to shop before returning home but Calder said the round trip can take nine hours and the sailings are often cancelled due to weather.

Meantime, Calder said businesses in Point Roberts are down 85 per cent because the Canadians who own 75 per cent of properties are currently shut out of the community.

Neither Carleton nor Calder is aware of any confirmed COVID-19 cases in Point Roberts to date.

“We’re not going to Tsawwassen to mix with people, we just want to get out of here, get through to Peace Arch and go back to mainland U.S.A. to shop doctor’s whatever,” Calder said.

Global News has reached out to representatives for federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair for an explanation as to why, given its unique location and circumstances, Point Roberts was not given a cross-border travel exemption similar to the one granted to Hyder, AK. and Stewart, B.C..

“We need help in whatever way that we can receive that by our governments working together and understanding unique circumstances just like the other locations across the 49th,” Carleton said.

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