Don Martin: Sealing off provinces from each other borders on pandemic paranoia
A lone person walks past closed businesses in Kensington Market in Toronto on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. As the federal government begins accepting applications for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to soften the economic blow of the COVID-19 outbreak, many business owners wonder if their own wages are covered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
OTTAWA -- There’s something rather big being overlooked in the move to reopen Canada.
Specifically, four provinces.
While the European Union is set to reopen most of its borders next month and Americans remain free to drive across state lines, Canadians will likely confront a "closed for the summer" sign on Atlantic Canada.
Fortress New Brunswick has police 24/7 on its boundaries guarding against the health care hazard posed by fellow Canadian travellers. None shall pass without an essential reason to enter with no sign of that edict easing.
Nova Scotia is aggressively "managing" its boundaries against potential COVID-carrying visitors while Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland have both raised the drawbridges against island arrivals from the rest of Canada.
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The once-welcoming Rock went so far as to twice deny a former resident permission to be the family representative at her mother’s funeral, only to relent once it became a news story.
While not to downplay the importance and effectiveness of the Stay Home messaging, it’s troubling to see this country fracturing along COVID-19 containment lines.
After all, there’s no consistency in visitor paranoia being shown by premiers or public health officials across the country.
B.C. is a major success story in battling the coronavirus, but it hasn’t barricaded itself from higher-infection Albertans.
Nor has low-infection Manitoba vetoed visitors from the second-highest coronavirus case jurisdiction of Ontario which, in turn, has no problem welcoming visitors from viral epicentre Quebec.
Besides, there’s no established connection fresh outbreaks and interprovincial travelling, with the exception of some oilsands workers reportedly taking the virus home.
This suggests Atlantic premiers are having a pandemic panic attack which exceeds necessary, prudent and proven health care precautions like social distancing and hand hygiene.
Besides, there’s a strong case that provinces erecting a police force fence to keep out fellow Canadians is unconstitutional.
The Constitution’s Section 6 guarantees free mobility between provinces, although one court ruled restrictions could be allowed “conceivably, in temporary circumstances, for some local reason as, for example, health”.
What ‘temporary’ means in that waffled ruling is not defined. Six months? A year? Until there’s a vaccine?
If the Atlantic provinces want to cut off their tourism lifeblood in the peak of summer and beyond, that’s their loss.
But visitors are not, as New Brunswick suggests, storming that province to escape the virus.
They’re looking get away from big city crowds and socially isolate in spectacular Maritime scenery. That pegs them as a low risk of creating new coronavirus clusters.
“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” a campaigning future prime minister once declared.
Well, Justin Trudeau, start defending the concept.
The divide between provinces are called boundaries, not borders, and they shouldn’t be grounds for interprovincial interrogations, blockades or evictions.
Summer is coming and the distressed tourism base of have-not Atlantic Canada will need visitor dollars to reduce their dependence on equalization support from the rest of Canada.
We are supposedly one country, not 10, bound together in good times and bad.
Prolonged self-isolation by select provinces from the rest of the country isn’t just economically unsound and most likely unconstitutional, it’s un-Canadian.