A South Surrey woman and her American husband, who live within walking distance of each other, say the newly relaxed international travel restrictions still limit spouses from seeing each other if they have jobs or other commitments.
Newlyweds Birgit Heinbach and Ian Geddes, who have been together for 11 years but married last November, live approximately seven kilometres from each other. However, the only place where they can meet is in Peace Arch Park, which some have now dubbed “Passion Park.”
The park’s Canadian parking lot was full Sunday morning as Peace Arch News interviewed the couple under the arch. Vehicles circled the lot looking for a spot as nearly a dozen tents scattered the park and hundreds of people, in small and large groups, were connecting with their American counterparts.
Geddes and Heinbach are just one of the many couples who are dealing with challenges brought on by the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Canada closed its border with the U.S. in March. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a “limited exemption” that would allow immediate family of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to enter Canada as long as they agree to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Americans travelling north must now stay in Canada for 15 days before they return to the U.S.
Geddes, who’s an airline pilot, is still unable to visit his wife due to his professional commitment.
“I’m actually on call,” Geddes said. “So I could do it, but if I get called out and say sorry, I’m in quarantine in Canada…. I’ll get fired.”
The couple says the mandatory 14-day quarantine is their primary issue, as it makes it impossible for working professionals to have weekend trips to see each other. Geddes said there are no quarantine requirements if he were to return to the U.S.
Meanwhile, travel restrictions prohibit Heinbach from entering the U.S. by land. However, she’s allowed to fly from Vancouver to Seattle, then return home by land. She would be subject to the 14-day quarantine once she crossed back into Canada.
“I could actually walk to his house from my house,” she said. “But I can’t do that. I would have to go to Vancouver Airport and expose myself (to COVID-19), land in Seattle, expose myself, and then he has to pick me up there or fly to Bellingham, exposing myself again,” Heinbach said.
The couple says the mandatory 14-day quarantine punishes responsible couples that would otherwise agree to taking a direct route from the border to their loved one’s house.
Heinbach said if she were allowed to travel to the U.S. by land, she has no interest in shopping or sight-seeing, adding that she would even allow government officials to track her movements if required.
Geddes says he understands why there are restrictions, however, the couple is asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and other policy makers, to put themselves in their shoes.
“I can understand it, too, though. They don’t know what people are going to do. There are people that, I’m sure they’re going to go out… If the bars are open, they’re going to go,” Geddes said.
Immigration lawyer Len Saunders, who’s based out of Blaine and has been working with the couple, says the mandatory 14-day quarantine lacks common sense.
“Why would someone, if they went down to Blaine and only went to one house, have to do a mandatory 14-day quarantine as if they travelled through 50 states?” Saunders said. “And the thing is, this is going to continue until way past the fall. And they’re going to continue doing this and it’s going to kill business on both sides of the border.”
Saunders said he’s received phone calls from couples as far away as Toronto and Cleveland, asking if it’s true that Peace Arch Park is open for international mingling.
“There are couples, and as of now, that have been separated for almost three months with no end in sight,” he said. “These are people who haven’t shared the same room for almost three months. That’s rough.”
Although there were a number of tents pitched in the park Sunday, Saunders said that erecting a tent is no longer allowed. The BC Parks website also notes that setting up enclosed tents is prohibited.
“I heard that the RCMP caught somebody who exchanged drugs in the tent and were taking it north. And so now they’ve banned tents on both sides so you can’t even pitch a tent and spend the day with your spouse,” Saunders said.
However, Saunders said he has to give credit to both governments for allowing the park to stay open.
“At least there’s some place for these spouses to meet,” he said.