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‘Significant concerns’ for SFN as reopening of Peace Arch Park inches closer

Reinstating public access depends on lifting of all federal COVID-19 border restrictions: ministry
Park rangers man the Beach Road exit off of Highway 99 Friday, following the June 18, 2020 closure of Peace Arch Provincial Park. (Tracy Holmes file photo)

The reopening of Peace Arch Provincial Park took a step forward on April 1, with the lifting of COVID-19 testing for vaccinated travellers.

But just how much closer that day is remains unclear.

Ministry of Environment officials said late last month that the park – which straddles the South Surrey-Blaine border – would not reopen until all COVID-related border restrictions have lifted.

Currently, any traveller entering Canada must be fully vaccinated.

Responding to an inquiry from Peace Arch News, a March 28 statement cited checking for vaccinations as among “highly challenging” issues stalling the return of unfettered public access.

“BC Parks is continuously monitoring border entry and park safety measures, and continues to engage with Federal government agencies, local communities, and local First Nations and Indigenous communities, to ensure the eventual re-opening of Peace Arch Provincial Park once all COVID related border restrictions are lifted.”

READ MORE: ‘It looked like Woodstock’: More than 85 tents pitched in Peace Arch State Park Sunday

READ MORE: UPDATED: Peace Arch Park closure ‘heartbreaking’

The provincial mask mandate for most public spaces and schools was lifted March 11, and last week (April 8), the public health order requiring proof of vaccination for entry at restaurants, pubs and post-secondary residences ended.

For the Semiahmoo First Nation, the prospect of the park reopening sparks “significant” concern.

“The concerns are primarily around access to SFN reserve lands and the well-being of the population,” a spokesperson told PAN by email.

“These are the same concerns coming again as when the park was initially used as the ‘gray’ area of access between Canada and the US back in the earlier days of the pandemic.”

PAN reported in June 2020 that the park’s Canadian side had been closed to the public to address “the public safety and traffic concerns in neighbouring communities due to a significant increase in the number of park visitors.”

At the time, many people had been taking advantage of a loophole that enabled cross-border couples and families to reunite at the park, overwhelming parking lots and local access roads, and raising concerns around the potential transmission of COVID-19.

The move didn’t deter everyone, however. In November 2020, residents along 0 Avenue raised the alarm after more than 85 tents were set up in the park the day after provincial health orders were put in place to prohibit people from gathering outdoors.

The American side of the park has remained open throughout the pandemic.

READ MORE: Starting Friday, vaccinated travellers to Canada don’t need a COVID-19 test

SFN Chief Harley Chappell was not immediately available to comment, but did say earlier this month that the band was hoping to meet soon with BC Parks regarding the issue.

– with files from Canadian Press
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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