Nobody anticipated the border would be closed this long after the U.S. and Canada mutually agreed in March to shut it down to control the spread of the coronavirus. Although trade has continued between the two countries, there is still no specified date for its reopening. Bernadette Clement, the mayor of Cornwall, Ontario, stated that there’s a closeness that people are missing. However, he said not anyone that he had spoken to want that border opened anytime soon. He added that though Canadians miss the Americans, they are not comfortable opening the border.
The mayor of Massena, New York, Tim Currier, said closing the border was going to have a long-term impact on their communities, economically, socially, and on all the things that are really essential to them. The border is closed tightly for any trips that are seen “non-essential” or discretionary, and that includes all recreation and tourism.
BIGGER PAIN ON CANADIAN SIDE OF BORDER
According to Statistics Canada, cross border car trips are down around 95% across both sides of the border. Individuals have been crossing the border in both directions every day for decades in these border communities. The border closure has been, in some way, a victim of its own success. With supply chains largely unaffected, essential goods and services have continued to flow across the border efficiently and easily. By doing about $1.9 billion in trade every day, Canada and the U.S. maintain one of the most widespread trading relationships in the world.
Mayor Currier said that there is no question about the economic impact. Currier added that there are small businesses that have not reopened; there are others that will never reopen as they depend heavily on Canadian traffic. Mayor Clement said that Cornwall is feeling the economic loss of American clientele. Clement said it had been challenging to keep everybody calm as residents took note of those plates. Many locals told CNN they desired the border stay closed for months given the higher infection rate in the U.S. A poll done by Ipsos in July indicated that more than eight in 10 Canadians want the border to remain closed until at least the end of the year.
MOHAWK COUNCIL OF AKWESASNE: STRADDLING THE BORDER
Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne said the challenge for them being right on the border was that they see the surge in cases in the United States as a whole. Abram added that some states have more cases than the entire country of Canada, and people have to be cautious about that. The Canadian borders and the Mohawk of Akwesasne straddle the U.S. hold a unique position. Even during this pandemic, they have maintained their right to travel between the two countries.
The Mohawk of Akwesasne can cross the border for essential travel in either the U.S. or Canada for shopping, banking, going to a doctor or checking on family members after presenting their identification cards to prove Indian status. When entering Canada, this indicates that they are exempt from two-week quarantine. Benedict said that it means those with New York state license plates are often seen in and around Cornwall. Though Benedict said that his community had a greater responsibility to keep everyone safe as most Canadians inhabitants now know, they have a right to be there.
With a ban on travel outside an 80-kilometre (50-mile) radius, an overnight curfew in Akwesasne is still in place. He said before it was mandatory in Cornwall Benedict to wear masks, many in his community had been wearing masks long. He added that the longer the border stays closed, the more profound the economic impact, although new infections are low on both sides of the border. Todd Papineau, general manager of the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort, said he had to make up for a 40% hole in my business. He confirmed that he didn’t expect Canadians to be back from months.
‘IT’S HARDER FOR BUSINESSES’
Clients were essential for the family-owned Greek restaurant and pizzeria at Philos Restaurant in Cornwall, the U.S. The restaurant just reopened to dine-in customers after five months of being shut. Only a few customers could be spotted in the restaurant, which shows that the extended border closure has affected the businesses as it relied on U.S. customers. Nancy Page, a manager who’s been working at the restaurant for most of its two decades, said it was harder for businesses, and they had fewer customers. She said it was a big change for people working in those businesses because they don’t know what to expect in the future.
In the U.S., some border communities are taking advice from public health experts by lobbying for a path forward to try to get the border open using what they call a careful, slow, thoughtful process. Currier said he certainly respects Canada’s view, but what’s happening in Florida is not happening in New York. New Yorkers are taking significant steps in reducing the likelihood and the chances of infection cases increasing. Many business communities in Canada agree with him, saying Canada should double down on rapid testing and that two-week quarantine for months to come is unsustainable and will disproportionately impact leisure and hospitality.