POINT ROBERTS, Wash. — The U.S. and Canadian governments now have different rules for crossing the border, making a confusing situation even more so.
On a summer day in August, a dual citizen stood on American soil, while an American journalist stood on Canadian turf.
"That's typical for the confusion with what we've been faced with here and 18 months of lockdown," said Point Roberts resident Brian Calder as he chatted across the border with KING 5, fresh off the change that he said hasn't benefitted the small exclave.
Point Roberts has been sliced off from the rest of Whatcom County, dating back years, and the separation has been more pronounced by the pandemic-related border closure. The Point is surrounded by water on three sides and behind two different border crossings.
There are now three different sets of government rules for the Point, as of Monday, Aug. 9. The exclaves residents can leave, with or without a COVID-19 vaccination, to run errands in the lower mainland. However, other Americans can now visit Canada for non-essential purposes, but only with proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test within 72 hours of their planned visit. Canadians are still not allowed to travel to America for non-essential trips.
Hence why an American journalist stood on the Canadian side because stepping over the border would have likely forbidden the crew from returning to Canada without a rapid negative COVID-19 test.
"This is a patchwork attempt," said Calder about the recent change.
Calder has been among the more vocal residents of the Point, which has for years enjoyed a system that allowed children to be bused through the Tsawwassen peninsula in order to attend school in Blaine, Washington. Calder, along with the town's Fire Chief Christopher Carleton, led a push for an exemption to the COVID closures.
The unique circumstances led to the closures of multiple restaurants and businesses and a threat to do the same at the town's only grocery store, the International Marketplace. An emergency state grant kept the store open, but Calder said the Canadian exemption actually makes the situation worse. He said it gives an incentive to the remaining 800 or so full-time residents to go shop north of the border.
"We've got no business," said Calder. "I went by (the Marketplace) just now. There were three cars in the parking lot. This time of the year, there'd be 300 cars in the parking lot. It's devastating."
Paul Bemister is the executive of the Maple Beach Property Owner's Association. He said he spent nearly $2,000 in flights and COVID tests to check on his cabin. He then went to the local hardware store and bought antifreeze to winterize the cabin because he believes the situation won't improve anytime soon, and at the very least for the normal summer tourist influx.
"It was a sad day," he said.
Elected leaders change their tone
U.S. elected leaders have shifted their tone in recent weeks. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was in town last month and openly blamed Canada for the issue.
But now, Washington Congressmember Suzan DelBene, along with Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, have lobbied Homeland Security for further changes.
"Without the U.S. reciprocating we leave communities like Point Roberts in a really terrible position," said DelBene (D-Medina).
The entire ordeal leaves people like Calder scratching his head. No one knew about the Canadian exemption until KING 5 emailed residents for a reaction. It happened as Carleton noted an "uptick" in COVID-19 cases on the point after months of proudly claiming there had only been one case in more than a year.
"Everyone should be vaccinated," said Calder about the Point's Canadian exemption. "I don't agree with us going unvaccinated people from here, which are only about 12%, going in and possibly bringing it back. We want to follow the science though. All of those people said we're treating Point Roberts so poorly because we're following the science. Well, you're not following the science."
Asked who should clear up the situation, Calder said bluntly, "The buck stops at Biden's desk."