As the pandemic continues to engulf the U.S., Canadians are increasingly concerned about what American visitors might bring with them across the border.
Built directly on the border of Blaine, Washington and Surrey, British Columbia, the Peace Arch is a 67-foot (20-meter) high testament to the close ties between Canada and the US.
Inscribed on one side are the words “These gates may never be closed,” a reminder of the nearly 8,891 km (5,525 miles) of the non-militarized border that separates the two nations.
For nearly 100 years, those words have been kept in mind – until the coronavirus pandemic effectively closes the border indefinitely.
The closure took effect on March 21, and was agreed upon by both governments. After being extended several times during the summer, the closure remains in effect until August 21 – although most expect the closure to be extended again.
“I never thought I would be sitting here in mid-August and that border is still closed,” says Len Saunders, a dual citizen living in Blaine.
“It looks like he’s crawling and going on without finishing his eyes.”
While closing the border has had significant economic and personal consequences for the millions of people who live alongside it or have loved ones on the other side, most Canadians want it to remain closed.
A July poll by Ipsos Reid found that eight in ten Canadians wanted the border to remain closed until at least the end of 2020.
And as the pandemic continues to spread in the US, so do tensions between American drivers and Canadians.
While non-essential travel is prohibited, commercial executives providing goods and people working across the border in essential services are allowed to cross.
People with American license plates have reported being harassed and their vehicles vandalized, even if they have every right to be there.
Mr Saunders, an immigration lawyer who has many clients who cross the border regularly to work, says many people are afraid.
“They are all afraid to drive their cars on the mainland, because of vandalism, filthy looks and just being treated like some ‘terrible Americans,'” he told the BBC.
One of his clients, an architect who was allowed to practice in Canada during the closure, says he was told to return home because of his car.
Tensions are so high that British Columbia Prime Minister John Horgan suggested Canadians with American license plates should take the bus or ride bicycles instead.
In the Muskoka region of Ontario, where many people have summer homes, hostility has gained police attention.
Ontario Provincial Police say a Canadian in Huntsville filed a complaint after two men allegedly tuned him to his Florida license plate.
“Recently this weekend, there was a gentleman up in the direction of Huntsville getting gas in his vehicle, and two gentlemen approached him and said, ‘you are American go home.’ And he said, ‘I’m Canadian. “I live here.” And they literally said, ‘No, we do not believe you are showing us your passport,’ “Phil Harding, mayor of nearby Kuskoka Lakes, told CP24.
“It just gets a little aggressive and they fear for their lives a little bit.”
Tight border security has also led to several notable arrests.
In Grand Forks, British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police spent over two hours chasing a man who allegedly crossed illegally into a stolen vehicle on July 24, down a river. The “swimming chase” ended where the river narrowed, when police, with the help of passers-by, were able to jump into the river and escort it back to shore.
Charges are pending, but anyone caught crossing the border can be fined up to $ 750,000 ($ 566,000; 43 434,000) and sentenced to six months in prison, or $ 1 million, and three years if their actions “cause risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm “.
These large fines are not just for deliberate offenders.
On Wednesday, police warned Americans taking part in an annual note down the St Claire River near the Michigan border that even accidentally crossing the border could lead to a heavy fine. In 2016, during the most careless times, Canadian police escorted congregations of about 1,500 sailors back to the U.S. side after winds blew them off course.
However, the effects of border closure in small towns along both sides are not insignificant.
Before the coronavirus, about 300,000 people crossed the border every day, including Canadians who routinely made day to reach a deal at U.S. outlet centers or gas stations, and American tourists exploring the wonder of Niagara Falls.
Since March, non-commercial border crossings in Canada have dropped by almost 95%, according to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).
“It will determine everything there,” says Mr Saunders.
But the economic impact of border closure for travelers is nothing compared to what would happen in Canada if another wave of coronavirus forced a second closure, says Ambarish Chandra, a professor of economics at the University of Toronto.
“This trip has a lot of economic impact on the communities where travelers travel,” he says.
“But given the pandemic in the US and the number of cases there, it makes sense to limit travel to the US – potentially indefinitely.”
Mr Chandra says the government should provide assistance to border towns, whose economies rely heavily on foreign tourism, but hold on with border closures until the pandemic is over.
“In the long run it is cheaper to save all of Niagara Falls, Ontario, than to close Toronto for another three or four weeks,” he says.
After months of closing most businesses, Canada’s coronavirus cases are falling and the country is in the midst of reopening its economy. Daily cases have dropped from a height of 2,760 on May 3 to several hundred.
- US against other countries … did it confuse its reopening?
Restaurants and shops have been open for at least a few weeks in most major cities, and so far, cases are still trending down.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is trying to calm its eruption, which peaked at 75,821 on July 17 and is seeing about 40,000 new cases a day.
Coronavirus: USA vs Canada
These numbers are what fuel the concern of many Canadians with American travelers.
“Montana is directly south of us, there is a second case, and I’m not sorry for anyone stopping at the border, let ‘s put it that way,” says Jim Willett, mayor of Coutts, Alberta.
“I’m afraid if we open the border too soon, we could have more problems like what is happening in the south.”
His hometown is one of five border towns where U.S. residents traveling to Alaska can enter Canada after the CBSA crashed into the so-called “Alaska Drain” in late July.
- Is the pandemic getting worse in the US?
- Can California’s economy survive recent growth?
Since Alaska has no borders with other U.S. states, Americans have to navigate through Canada, i.e. the “gap.”
Following the closure of the border, many have expressed concern that drivers have utilized the axis to explore some of the country’s most scenic locations, such as Vancouver Island and Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise.
In June, the RCMP issued seven tickets worth $ 1,200 ($ 906, £ 694) each to Americans who broke the rules by seeing something in Alberta.
“Do not cross go. Go directly to Alaska,” Prime Minister Horgan said at a news conference in July.
Complaints of emptiness and lack of enforcement led to the shock.
In late July, the border authority announced that Alaska-bound passengers had only limited entry points, had to take the most direct route to their destination, and had to display labels on their vehicle identifying them as American drivers. going to the northern state.
They are also restricted to a “reasonable period of stay” in Canada, and are prohibited from visiting national parks, leisure sites and other tourist destinations, with violators facing harsh penalties.
Since stricter rules have been passed, Mr Willett says he is not “too worried” about traffic coming across the border.
“[We] get plenty of people through all times of the day and night. “Most of them are quite cooperative,” he said.