Residents living along 0 Avenue in South Surrey are sounding the alarm after more than 85 tents were set up in Peace Arch Park Sunday, the day after strict new provincial health orders were put in place to prohibit people from gathering outdoors.
“It looked like Woodstock,” a nearby resident told Peace Arch News Monday.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry held a rare Saturday press conference Nov. 7, where she announced a provincial health order restricting people from gathering – outdoors or indoors – with people outside of their immediate household in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions.
The order, it seems, was of little concern to Canadians who wished to visit Americans on the U.S. side of Peace Arch Park.
“It’s utter chaos,” resident Jim Purdon told Peace Arch News Monday. “And this has been an ongoing saga for months and months and months.”
This is complete BS! We are following Dr Bonnie’s lock down rules but this crap can happen? Canadians jump a ditch to US side of Peace Arch Park. No customs checks, and NO QUARANTINING? @DrBonnieHenry @sophielui @keithbaldrey @Fraserhealth pic.twitter.com/2fTmIk0z8y— Jana Anderson (@J_Anderson66) November 8, 2020
The park, on the Canadian side, 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 and fall, providing a daily site for camping, wedding parties, family reunions and celebrations of all kinds.
The U.S. leads the world in the number of COVID-19 cases with more than 10 million. The country is also home to the most deaths, with 238,000 and counting.
As of Monday, Washington State has had 117,331 confirmed cases of COVID-19. British Columbia has had 18,714 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Visiting the park as a Canadian is considered by many to be a loophole. It’s one of the few, if not only, locations where Canadians can meet Americans without going through customs.
Nearby resident John Kageorge said the number of tents in the park has been steadily growing since the border was closed.
“It was as if Dr. Bonnie Henry’s words were never uttered,” Kageorge said when asked to describe the park Sunday.
“The park was over the brim with people as it has been with all weekends since June. It seemed as if there was no request for everyone to stay out of group gatherings.”
“People that are accessing that park don’t seem to really care.”
Asked about enforcement of Canadians returning from the park, 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 cases related to people meeting outdoors at that park,” Henry said.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the traffic along 0 Avenue has been a point of frustration for nearby residents. Parking spaces are at a premium, and some residents have raised concern about the virus.
“How people can drive from wherever, park their cars, walk over there, spend the day there with Americans and come back. Nobody’s isolating or anything like that. It’s a loophole that nobody seems to want to touch,” Purdon said.
In September, police increased patrols in the area but did not institute a new policy or specific campaign.
While it’s not recommended, people are allowed to mingle in the park because the U.S. has left the State Park open. However, RCMP officers waiting 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.
CBSA told PAN last month that 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.