Point Roberts pins COVID-19 border exemption hopes on President Biden

Click to play video 'Will U.S. President Biden help end Point Roberts’ isolation?' Will U.S. President Biden help end Point Roberts’ isolation?
The Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce is hoping the new U.S. president will help end the isolation the tiny Washington state peninsula has faced since the Canada-U.S. border was closed to non-essential travel in March. Paul Johnson explains – Jan 23, 2021

Residents of the Washington state community of Point Roberts are hoping an executive order from U.S. President Joe Biden could lead to eased COVID-19 border restrictions.

Point Roberts lies just south of Delta, B.C., and is separated from the rest of Washington state by water and the Canadian border.

According to Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce president Brian Calder, 75 per cent of the property in Point Roberts is owned by Canadians, and visitors from north of the border drive 90 per cent of its economic activity.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Closed Canadian border leaves U.S. town landlocked from rest of country

An estimated 1,300 residents say they’re facing economic catastrophe and problems with simple day-to-day activities such as food shopping and medical appointments.

Click to play video 'Point Roberts’ only grocery store says status quo unsustainable' Point Roberts’ only grocery store says status quo unsustainable
Point Roberts’ only grocery store says status quo unsustainable – Dec 29, 2020

The community has had no cases of the virus, and Calder claims Canadian border officials are inconsistent about who they allow to travel through Canada to Washington state, even when they have medical documentation.

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“We’ve been abandoned. We’ve basically been locked down without a trial where it’s almost like we’re in jail,”  Calder told Global News, Saturday.

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

The community is now pinning its hopes that language in one of Biden’s first executive orders could address some of its concerns.

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The order directs five of Biden’s key cabinet secretaries to “immediately commence diplomatic outreach to the governments of Canada and Mexico regarding public health protocols for land ports of entry,” and come back with a border plan within two weeks.

Calder wants Point Roberts’ concerns front and centre in that report and has penned a letter to Washington’s secretary of state to make their plea.

Click to play video 'Point Roberts not included in cross-border travel exemption' Point Roberts not included in cross-border travel exemption
Point Roberts not included in cross-border travel exemption – Oct 31, 2020

“Come and take a look. Send someone on the ground who can see these stories,” he said.

“If someone was here with some authority who would pay attention to this little exclave, it could be solved or at least mitigated to get rid of the human suffering.”

A spokesperson for federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government was “aware” of Biden’s order, but noted current border restrictions are slated to remain in place until at least Feb. 21.

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“We are in continuous discussions with the U.S. Government about issues related to our shared border,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Read more: Washington state asks Canada for Point Roberts coronavirus exemption

“These decisions have not been taken lightly, and we know people are making sacrifices, but they are necessary to keep Canadians safe.”

In a statement, the Canada Border Services Agency also maintained that asymptomatic Point Roberts residents who need to transit through Canada for essential purposes are allowed across the border.

That’s not enough for Calder, who says a workaround that takes Point Roberts’ unique situation into account is needed so that Canadians can come down and maintain their properties and residents can exit for needed appointments.

“We surrender,” he said. “Come and help.”

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