COVID-19: Ontario couple spends 2 nights on side of road trying to reach Nova Scotia

Jay Strickland and his partner, Megan Brannen, had to sleep in their car for two days because they couldn't cross the Nova Scotia border.
Jay Strickland and his partner, Megan Brannen, had to sleep in their car for two days because they couldn't cross the Nova Scotia border. Contributed

A couple from Ontario is finally en route to Nova Scotia after spending two nights in their car and one night in a hotel near the New Brunswick-Quebec border.

Jay Strickland, 27, had been planning to move to Nova Scotia for months. He’s originally from Newfoundland and wanted to “seek refuge” in Atlantic Canada due to the “disgusting” COVID-19 situation in Ontario.

“I’m sick all the time, I have severe asthma, I’m just at risk of catching this,” he said in an interview. “I wanted to go somewhere that was smaller, and I’ve been trying to get home for years.”

So, he got a lease on an apartment in the Herring Cove area that began at the start of May. Strickland and his partner were originally planning to leave for Nova Scotia on Tuesday, but when they learned the province would be closing its border at 8 a.m. Monday, they rushed to leave early on Sunday instead.

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They ended up being pulled over in Quebec that night for missing curfew, which delayed their trip by about two hours. When they finally reached the New Brunswick border and told border officers they were on their way to Nova Scotia, they were denied entry because they were told they would miss the province’s border closure.

The couple had already handed over their keys to their landlord back in Ontario, and with funds running low, they decided to stay at the only place they could: in their car on the side of the road in Quebec, near the New Brunswick border.

Complicating matters was the fact that their car was full of their belongings, and they had their dog and three cats with them.

“It was just very uncomfortable. I was freezing, we can’t keep the car running because of gas,” said Strickland.

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“We literally ran out of food on the side of the road and we were hesitant to spend our last little tiny bit of money because we needed it to get to Nova Scotia for gas.”

‘I was just left homeless’

Strickland also brought eight pet fish in a travel bucket, but four of them died during the ordeal.

They reached out to several politicians and heard back from a few, but nobody was able to get them through the border.

“I literally couldn’t believe it. I was just left homeless on the side of the road with all of my animals, with nothing and nobody, in a province I’m not from, in an area where they don’t speak my language,” he said.

“My voice is gone from talking and making so many phone calls. My animals are traumatized. My partner’s had a mental breakdown. It’s been a very, very hard time.”

After spending a second night in the cramped car, a border patrol officer approached them and gave them $100 to see if there was a nearby hotel they could afford. They managed to find one, where they could finally plug in their computer and see what their options were.

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They applied for a compassionate entry, a measure that was announced by Premier Iain Rankin on Monday.

People can apply for a compassionate entry if they have:

  • A purchase or sale agreement for a property purchase showing an offer was accepted on or before April 21, with a closing date of on or before May 20.
  • A minimum one-year lease signed on or before April 21 and beginning on or before May 20.
  • A letter of acceptance for new employment dated on or before May 7 for a job that cannot be done virtually or deferred.

Strickland’s compassionate entry request was accepted, but only after he told the province he was planning to go to the media.

He and his partner are now on their way to Nova Scotia, but he said there are other people at the hotel who are still waiting to hear back.

“I know that there’s people sitting here in the same position that I am that are not getting any attention from anybody,” he said. “It’s actually really sad to watch.”

‘Stuck in limbo’

One of those other people is Chris Barranger, 49, who left Ontario with his wife on May 3 and was turned away from the Nova Scotia border on May 5. He said border officials refused to look at the paperwork they had.

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The couple had a one-year lease agreement starting in early May. They had already sold their house back in Ontario, so going back wasn’t an option.

They’ve been staying at a hotel, at their own expense, since then. He said they’ve spent nearly $700 on hotel bills so far, but it will get more expensive the longer they stay.

“Our funds are running out, our dog’s running out of food, the dog’s just going a little stir-crazy,” he said. “My wife has just been a wreck.”

There also aren’t any laundry facilities where they’re staying, so Barranger has been washing their clothes in the bathtub.

They applied for a compassionate exemption on Tuesday and have yet to hear back.

“It just really breaks my heart seeing my wife cry,” he said. “These people who claim to be compassionate are ignoring us. It’s just bothersome. They’re refusing to help us.”

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Barranger said he’s been speaking with a Nova Scotia MP who will try to get them help, but in the meantime, “we’re stuck in limbo.”

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He said he and his wife would be happy to self-isolate as required and follow all restrictions once they arrive, but they haven’t had that option yet.

In an email, Department of Justice spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said the province has been receiving and processing requests for compassionate exceptions since the pandemic began in March 2020.

“While most such requests are related to funerals or end-of-life assistance, we began considering requests from people moving to Nova Scotia this week,” she said.

“We have received hundreds of requests in the past several days. We process requests as quickly as possible, with an eye to prioritizing time-sensitive requests.”

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