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Canadian official in Seattle: Border officers have discretion over 'essential' travel

Signs Hang on the entrance way to Canada via the Rainbow Bridge, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Niagara Falls N.Y.
Jeffrey T. Barnes
The Associated Press
Signs Hang on the entrance way to Canada via the Rainbow Bridge, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Niagara Falls N.Y.

One of the steps taken during the pandemic were restrictions on the border between Canada and the United States. Last week, we heard from Point Roberts, Washington, which is separated from the rest of Whatcom County. People who live there have to go through British Columbia to get in or out of town.

There was some uncertainty among residents there as to what the border's restriction to "essential travel only" might mean for them. Canada's Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, said border crossings will be allowed to continue for certain reasons, in communities where it's important for everyday life.

Here's what both governments said when the restrictions were announced:

Canadian statement on U.S. border restrictions

U.S. statement on northern border restrictions

KNKX spoke with Brandon Lee, the consul general of Canada in Seattle. His office helps Canadians access their government services while traveling abroad, and helps cement trade relationships with the United States. Listen to the interview in the audio player above.


On travel to and from Point Roberts, Washington, which is only linked to British Columbia by land: “Our deputy prime minister said it best. She said all residents, if essential travel, can certainly travel back and forth. She actually referenced Point Roberts and Campobello, which is the opposite situation to Point Roberts on the East Coast.” (Campobello Island is part of New Brunswick, with the only road in or out running through Maine.)

On exactly what "essential" means: “These lists go anywhere from 15 (to) 18 pages long, because every job, every sector, has different types of jobs and different types of functions. Another way to look at this is: Any travel that is optional or discretionary – tourism, recreation, entertainment – these kinds of activities are no longer allowed. Our border officers … are the ones that have the final decision. Each case is different, each person is different. From a policy perspective, we’ve given broad, clear direction, and the specific individual decisions will be taken by the border officers.”

On the importance of the border for trade: “There’s almost $3 billion worth of trade that we do on a regular basis. We have almost 400,000 people that cross the border each day. Our society is completely integrated when you look at our culture, our values. The border is almost a political, artificial one, because the values on the West Coast are so closely shared between our people.”

Canadian citizens in need of assistance while traveling abroad can visit the Consulate General of Canada’s website, or call 844-880-6519.


Ed Ronco came to KNKX in October 2013 as producer and reporter for KNKX’s Morning Edition. Ed started in public radio in 2009 at KCAW in Sitka, Alaska, where he covered everything from city government, to education, crime, science, the arts and more. Prior to public radio, Ed worked in newspapers, including four years at the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, where he covered business, then politics and government.