Open Letter to Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
My great grandmother was Canadian. Her sister, my great, great Aunt Helen Davis built our original cottage up in Pointe au Baril, Ontario in 1902. Their brother, Uncle Hamilton Davis, followed Helen and in 1906 built the Ojibway Hotel which you may have visited during your recent vacation there in August. My grandparents met up there in the 20’s. And while so much has changed over these years, one thing hasn’t. My family’s love for Georgian Bay, for Canada, and for the Canadian people. I speak for many thousands of people in the US who feel the same way. Here’s an article from the Financial Post that provides more color.
In the early months of the pandemic, my 14-year old daughter Izzy and I tried to cross into Canada at the Derby, VT line, to retrieve items – including a boat – from our cottage up in Pointe au Baril, Ontario. Izzy and I were struck by the usually jammed, now empty lanes as we approached the border. At the booth, the border patrol officer asked, “so what’s the story here?”
Among other things, I let it be known early on that I am 7/8 American, 1/8 Canadian.
“That’s not enough Canadian,” he said politely. “Your passport is 100% American, 0% Canadian.”
Needless to say, we were turned back. I had told Izzy that while our chances were next to nil, there was never harm in trying. That has since proven not to be the case… there is great potential harm and penalty for trying. Luckily, we didn’t meet with any consequences.
Since that day in June, I’ve read countless articles about Canadians being vehemently opposed to Americans returning to Canada. The poll I looked at the other night said that 70% of Canadians wanted the borders to remain closed until at least 2021. The comments about Americans on Reddit, as an example, are heart-breaking. We, as a whole, appear to be literally hated in so many corners of a country many of us have only loved for our entire lives – I had no idea. In the worst instances, the way Canadians talk about Americans and the Canadian/US border reminds me of how Trump supporters talk about Mexicans and the need for a wall along that border. It’s not the Canada I know. It’s not the Canadian culture of kindness and peacefulness I’ve come to respect and love since birth.
It’s true. My family and I live in the United States and we are American. Our home is in Norwich, VT, about 150km south of the Canadian border. The population here is 3,412 people. I believe there was one Covid case in town early on. But since the entire state of Vermont has only had ~1,700 cases, of which 58 have died (3 since May), it’s not surprising our rural area has been mostly spared. A recent ABC News story entitled “How Vermont became a ‘model for the country’ in responding to the coronavirus pandemic” shares more details as to why VT has been more successful than every other state in the US.
Despite the low numbers we have seen here in Vermont, we continue to wear masks in public, in stores, and when talking to each other in the streets. Every employer and place of business in our Upper Valley regions seems to take the safety of its employees and customers seriously – “too seriously” many claim. This area of the country appears to value life more than profits as is not the case in other parts of the US, and many businesses have suffered accordingly. But we are safe with few and at times no cases.
September 21 was the second to last possible opening date that most Americans with cottages could still get to their properties before, in many cases, they become inaccessible. Now we once again hold our breath and pray for October 21. I am told to hold no hope and that the restrictions will just get extended again. But I amhopeful. At some point I believe science-based minds will prevail, and that instead of simply extending this blanket border closure for another 30 days or longer, that the governments of both countries might consider a more thoughtful, numbers-based, gradual opening strategy. And while I am clearly advocating for something that benefits me personally, it’s only because I am in one of the states that I think should be considered safe by your government.
I would respectfully propose the following general criteria for – let’s call it a Phase I – opening on or before October 21, focused first on Americans who have family and/or own property in Canada:
- Travelers would be required to prove ownership of property in Canada, and the sole purpose of the trip would be to visit that property.
- Begin with residents of States that directly border Canada with low COVID case numbers (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont would be good candidates today). Expand to additional states only as cases drop to pre-set numbers that are in-line with Canadian case statistics.
- Travelers attempting to cross would need both valid US Passport and valid driver’s license from the approved border state.
- Travelers would need to have taken a Covid test with a negative result during the past 14 days and present such documentation prior to crossing the border, and not have left that state since that time.
While I realize this letter may be as naïve in nature as was Izzy’s and my effort to visit Georgian Bay many months ago, I can’t emphasize the depth of connection so many of us feel with our neighbors to the north. For many of us, in a world that is constantly changing and of late in complete chaos, those communities and multi-generational relationships in Canada are some of the rare constants in our lives.
Finally, I don’t personally want this last paragraph to be the main point of this letter, but there are many who do so it should be included. Despite not being able to use, maintain, or even protect our properties, Americans are continuing to pay hefty taxes and service fees to caretakers to own our properties in Canada. At some level, especially if where people live has as few cases as we do here in Vermont, it seems wrong to forbid tax-payers from using their properties if they are taking the same precautions and seeing similar regional Covid19 cases as Canadians only an hour drive to their north.
Thank you for at least considering the perspective of someone whose lifelong love of Canada and the Canadian people truly defines him – and who along with thousands of others feels a great sense of loss in not being able to reconnect with the land, nature, and the people of Canada.
John S Pepper