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B.C. premier says calling for closure of Peace Arch State Park a federal responsibility

Horgan said he would ‘take action’ if Canada-U.S. border park is flagged as problem by PHO
A ditch marks the Canada-U.S. border and separates people walking on the road, right, in Surrey, British Columbia, and those gathered at Peace Arch Historical State Park, left, in Blaine, Wash., Sunday, July 5, 2020. Although the B.C. government closed the Canadian side of the park in June due to concerns about crowding and COVID-19, people are still able to meet in the U.S. park due to a treaty signed in 1814 that allows citizens of Canada and the U.S. to unite in the park without technically crossing any border. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

Asked if he would speak with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee about closing the U.S. side of Peace Arch Park, B.C. Premier John Horgan said management of the issue belongs with Canada’s federal government.

However, Horgan continued, if the issue of Canadians and Americans mingling at the park was flagged as a problem by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, he would “take action immediately.”

The question was posed to the premier Monday afternoon, by media following up on a letter signed by South Surrey MLA Stephanie Cadieux and Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford, both Liberals, that urged Horgan to speak to Inslee about shutting down Peace Arch State Park.

While the provincial government closed the Canadian side of the park in June, the American side, located off 0 Avenue, has remained open. The state side of the park has provided a daily site for wedding parties, family reunions and celebrations.

Over the weekend, South Surrey residents counted more than 75 tents in the park, which in some cases have been used by international couples to get reacquainted. No overnight camping is permitted in the park.

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“I have not seen any advice from Dr. Henry that this is a major issue,” Horgan said, adding that Peace Arch Park has been “an area of concern.”

“I do speak regularly with Inslee. This is not an issue we’ve discussed. We have discussed the challenges of residents of Point Roberts, U.S. citizens who must go through Canada to get to the United States. We’ve discussed a range of issues about our economy and how integrated we are,” Horgan said.

Pressed further on the issue of Peace Arch Park, with a suggestion that it was the province that shut down the Canadian side, so Washington State could do the same, Horgan said again that it’s an issue for the federal government.

“Dr. Henry has not raised it with me that it’s a concern. If at the end of this press conference I have a voice-mail from her that tells me otherwise, I’ll be happy to get back to you,” Horgan told a reporter.

RELATED: South Surrey MLAs call on premier to ask U.S. to shut down Peace Arch Park

“My sense is that we want to encourage people to have good behaviour. If the people… are coming from the south to the U.S. side of Peace Arch Park and meeting with their loved ones for brief visits, I’m reluctant to get in the way of that.”

The park is one of few places, if not the only one, in Canada where Americans and Canadians can freely mingle without crossing a port of entry.

Halford noted that both he and Cadieux have been contacted by South Surrey residents who expressed concern about the potential spread of COVID-19 in the international park.

“At a time when COVID-19 variants could spread quickly, it’s more critical than ever to take action to protect our communities,” Halford said.

Asked about enforcement of Canadians returning from the park in November, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she often hears from people with concerns.

“As you know, there are people who monitor that park, the border itself is a federal jurisdiction and I know that they have enhanced patrols in that area. I’m not aware of any (COVID-19) cases related to people meeting outdoors at that park,” Henry said.

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