Campobello – For the first time in over 150 years, the Canada/US border has been closed for non-essential travel. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump spoke on Wednesday, March 18, and made the decision in the wake of COVID-19, in order to mitigate further spread of the virus.
The closure will not affect trade between the two countries, and food, medical supplies, and other essential goods will continue to be shipped across borders. The Trudeau government assured Canadians all supply chains will remain active between Canada and the US. Essential goods will continue to be transported between both countries.
Those who travel across the border for work or for other urgent reasons will not be denied entry into either country.
But, what does unprecedented border closure mean for residents of the Island of Campobello? In order to be able to receive many essential services, residents must cross the US border at Lubec, Maine in order to get to St. Stephen and other parts of Canada until ferry service resumes – a start date which is currently unknown as all ferry service in the province has been suspended.
Southwest NB MP John Williamson said he visited Campobello this past Wednesday to speak with Mayor Brett Newman and constituents on the island about the border crossing issue.
“The news on Campobello is islanders are permitted to travel through the State of Maine back into St. Stephen for essential needs,” said Williamson.
“That could include medical appointments, banking, and food, although there is a food store on Campobello. There’s a general exemption for island residents, because so many services that other folks living in Charlotte County have available and they do not.”
Some may be wondering what constitutes essential services. Williamson said it is important at this time to use common sense. For instance, he said people shouldn’t be crossing into Lubec for a coffee, since this is something they can have at home. He encouraged residents to do as much on the island as possible, such as shopping for food supplies, hinting at the fact that the Campobello Village Mart will remain open.
The island’s only grocery store was scheduled to close on March 31, but Williamson said owner Richard Young was going to keep it open for a while longer to assist residents while the borders are closed.
Williamson said the issue has been discussed by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, and US Secretary Mike Pompeo, and they are working together to ensure that the flow of essential goods will not be disrupted during this crisis.
“It’s been a team effort,” said Williamson. “I’ve been working with Campobello Mayor Newman, and he’s been great. I’ve had great response from the provincial and federal governments as well. This Campobello issue has been discussed by the Deputy Prime Minister, with Secretary Pompeo in the Whitehouse. I suspect they haven’t talked so much about Campobello in the Whitehouse since FDR was president.
“The good news is, sales at the food store on the island have increased this week, which tells me that islanders are heeding the warnings they’re getting from health authorities, and that’s good. We’re working to insure that they’re not troubled by the border issue,” said Williamson.
While visiting the island, Williamson said he also tested the border crossing at Lubec to see if there would be any difficulties crossing over from Campobello. He said he was able to easily get to the island and back. There were some extra questions asked, but there were no real difficulties for cross border traffic between Campobello and Lubec.
The Courier reached out to Newman, but he had not replied by press time. Newman posted on Facebook about the situation, ensuring residents they will be able to travel back and forth for essential services. Otherwise, the island will be closed to US travelers.
“In New Brunswick, we have an uncommon situation,” said Premier Blaine Higgs during a press conference on Saturday. “Residents of Campobello Island are concerned about accessing the United States now that the border has closed. The Canada Border Services Agency, and US Customs and Border Protection are aware of those geographical challenges that effect these residents.
“I’ve been reassured that residents of the island who intend to travel directly between Lubec and Calais in Maine for essential services will not be restricted in those travels. Additionally, they will be able to travel from St. Stephen to Campobello Island directly through the United States as they have done for many years,” Higgs added.
“Campobello residents will still be able to travel through the US/Canadian border during these added restrictions. Groceries, gas, and work-related travel for essential business will still be allowed. If you are coming on vacation from America, sorry. Until further notice, Campobello is closed.”
Editors note – The Courier has learned the Campobello Village Mart will remain open, at least for the foreseeable future. See that full story in the Tuesday, March 31 edition of The Saint Croix Courier.