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Treaty signed in 1814 allows Canadians, U.S. citizens to still meet at Peace Arch Park

Canadians and Americans find loophole in closure of Peace Arch Park
Less than two weeks after the B.C. government closed Peace Arch Park because too many Canadians and Americans were using it, they've found a loophole to get around it. Nadia Stewart reports.

A treaty signed more than 200 years ago in what is now modern-day Belgium is causing a current headache for the B.C. government.

The government ordered the closure of Peace Arch Park for the second time on June 18 after what they said was a major spike in visitors.

The park has served as a popular meeting spot for loved ones who are separated by the border and have been unable to visit each other because of a ban on non-essential travel due to COVID-19.

The area was closed on April 8 as the novel coronavirus spread around the world and reopened on May 14 as cases began to dwindle in B.C.

However, as the park straddles the Canadian and U.S. border, the American side of the park was never closed.

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“Anybody can access on the American side the Peace Arch Park and Canadians can access the American side on 0 Avenue,” Len Saunders, U.S. immigration lawyer based in Blaine, Wash., told Global News.

“And a lot of people didn’t realize that when they heard that the Peace Arch Park was closed. But only part of it is closed.

Read more: Coronavirus: Peace Arch Provincial Park to close again due to spike in visitors

“And so, what’s been happening since the Canadian side closed a couple of weeks ago is that many Canadians are entering the park from 0 Avenue, which is perfectly legal.”

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RCMP officers are on scene at the park, along with border officers on both sides, but Saunders said they have told him they have no problem with Canadians crossing over into the Peace Arch Park on the American side.

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“As long as the Canadian citizens don’t go farther south than the grassed area, they can meet with relatives, they can walk their dogs, they can enjoy the park, there’s absolutely no restrictions,” he said.

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Saunders adds they can then enter back into Canada legally because technically they never entered American soil.

Read more: Coronavirus: Couples separated by U.S.-Canada border finally embrace at Peace Arch Park

This loophole comes from the Treaty of Ghent, signed in 1814.

“Basically what the Treaty of Ghent says is neither side, so neither the Canadians nor the Americans, can put up any barriers within 10 feet of either side of the border. So Canadians, even if they wanted to stop Canadians from entering the U.S. side of the Peace Arch Park on 0 Avenue, they’re legally unable to.”

“The Treaty of Ghent says if either side breaks that treaty, the borders are reverted back to prior to 1814, which means that part of southern Ontario and Quebec reverts back to the United States if the Canadians put up a boundary.”

“So (the B.C. government’s) hands are tied.”

Cross-border couple ties knot at Peace Arch Park
Cross-border couple ties knot at Peace Arch Park

 

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Saunders says he was told many Canadians wanting to get items from their mailboxes in the United States was the main reason for the B.C. government shutting down the park in the first place.

“That’s still going to happen,” he says.

“The province of B.C. has put themselves in a very difficult position,” Saunders adds.

“They’ve closed down the Peace Arch Park, but they can’t close down the American side, so I think, unless the American side closes down — and it’s a state park, not a federal park, so it would have to be Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington State who, as far as I know, doesn’t care whether this park remains open or not — I don’t think there’s going to be any changes to closing down the park.”