After South Surrey residents counted more than 75 tents pitched in Peace Arch Park last weekend, and with even more expected this Sunday – Valentine’s Day – South Surrey and White Rock MLAs are calling on the premier to work with the governor of Washington State to close the American side of the park.
The Canadian side of the park has been closed as a safety measure to prevent large gatherings in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic declaration in March. But the State Park, on the U.S. side, has remained open through the summer, fall and winter, providing a daily site for wedding parties, family reunions and celebrations of all kinds. The U.S. State Park closes in the evening.
While the park is one of the only places in the country where Canadians can freely mingle with Americans without technically crossing the border, the American park has been a point of frustration for South Surrey neighbours for months. Visiting the park as a Canadian is considered by many to be a loophole.
Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux and Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford, both members of the BC Liberals, jointly signed a letter to BC Premier John Horgan asking him to “call on” Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee to close the American side of Peace Arch Park until it is deemed safe for non-essential cross border travel.
“Countless constituents who live close to the border have contacted our offices commenting that they feel unsafe. They are concerned with the increase of Canadian visitors to the park who are returning to our province without being force to quarantine,” the MLAs wrote to the premier.
“Currently, Washington State officials have not shown any willingness to close the American side of the park to help limit the number of people who gather.”
Halford told Peace Arch News that he expects activity in the park to pick up come Valentines Day.
“At a time when COVID-19 variants could spread quickly, it’s more critical than ever to take action to protect our communities,” Halford said in a release.
Asked about enforcement of Canadians returning from the park in November, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she often hears from people with concerns.
“As you know, there are people who monitor that park, the border itself is a federal jurisdiction and I know that they have enhanced patrols in that area. I’m not aware of any (COVID-19) cases related to people meeting outdoors at that park,” Henry said.
Aside from COVID-19 concerns, residents have also contacted PAN over the last number of months to take issue with congestion and lack of parking in the South Surrey neighbourhood due to the spike in park activity. Last year, Blaine immigration lawyer Len Saunders said he’s received phone calls from couples as far away as Toronto and Cleveland, asking if it’s true that Peace Arch Park is open for international mingling.
While Canadians can move freely to and from the U.S. side of the park, RCMP officers on the Canadian side can instruct a returning Canadian to report to CBSA.
The CBSA can, and has, subjected returning Canadians to a 14-day quarantine, regardless of how long the person spent in Peace Arch Park.
In October, South Surrey’s Birgit Heinbach told PAN she was sent to CBSA after spending two minutes in the park. CBSA officers instructed her to quarantine for 14 days.
At the time, CBSA told PAN all travellers seeking entry into Canada, “no matter where or what mode of entry,” must report to CBSA and may be subject to quarantine measures.