A Blaine immigration lawyer says the closure of the Canadian side of Peace Arch Park may have caused more headaches for the B.C. government than it solved.
The provincial government closed access to Peace Arch Park June 18. For many international couples and people who have family in the United States, the international park was the only place they could reconnect.
However, the U.S. did not reciprocate B.C.’s closure, instead allowing Americans and Canadians to interact on the U.S. side of the park, which is accessible by crossing a ditch on 0 Avenue near 170 Street.
Technically, immigration lawyer Len Saunders told Peace Arch News, if you cross the ditch to enter the park, you aren’t entering the U.S.
He said he spoke to both U.S. Customs Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency officers and they don’t care if people cross the ditch to enter the park.
“It was fascinating the amount of people that were just hopping back and forth over the ditch in like 45 minutes. I think I saw one RCMP cruiser go by, but even then, what are they going to do?” said Saunders, who was there Monday (June 29).
“There’s no way they can prevent people from crossing the ditch unless CBSA says that people are entering Canada illegally from the U.S.”
A representative from the CBSA told PAN Tuesday that policing that section of the border is the responsibility of the RCMP.
Contacted Tuesday, Surrey RCMP did not provide comment by PAN press deadline.
A CBP representative told PAN the American side of the park is managed by the State of Washington, adding that CBP monitors Peace Arch Park to ensure individuals do not use it as a means to illegally enter the U.S.
“It’s going to drive the province of B.C. crazy because there’s nothing they can do to stop it,” Saunders said.
One way to prevent Canadians from accessing the park would be to build a fence, but Saunders said that isn’t legal.
Saunders said he bumped into a park ranger at Peace Arch Park and was told that Canada cannot legally build a fence or barricade around the park because it would violate the Treaty of Ghent, which was signed in 1814.
Saunders said the Treaty of Ghent says that if the Canada violates its terms, America gains ownership of parts of Southern Ontario and Quebec. If the Americans violate the clause, Canada gets ownership of parts of Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin.
An alternative way to stop the visits is for America to close Peace Arch Park, but Saunders suspects that’s unlikely.
“Do you think Jay Inslee, the governor (of Washington), is going to close down one park? The Americans don’t care. They don’t care about Canadians coming down here,” Saunders said.
Shutting of the park has caused issues – particularly around parking – for the neighbourhood just north of 0 Avenue near 170 Street.
“They created a worse issue by closing down the park,” Saunders said.
Peace Park Drive resident Rick Robinson says the residential streets don’t have enough parking to support the visitors, causing frustrations in the neighbourhood.
“People come along and park right in front of your house. If a guy happens to be working an afternoon shift and comes home, they can’t even park in front of their own house. Or parking in people’s yards and just leaving the car, not even asking about it,” Robinson said.
“I’ve sat in front of my house…. and stopped people from parking so I could get my car out if I wanted. I put orange cones up in front of my house and they parked between them,” he said.
Robinson said he’s noticed an increased police presence along the border, particularly “ghost cars.”
He has also seen suspicious activity.
“I’m quite sure that people have been handing stuff off to each other because I’ve seen people parking on my street and bringing stuff back that they didn’t have when they went,” he said.
Robinson said international couples hurt themselves by setting up tents in the park, despite signs advising them not to, and by not practising social distancing while visiting each other.
“We know that they’re not playing cards in those tents,” he said.
“You shouldn’t be able to walk across the park and kiss your sweetheart. Love is love, but a law is a law.”