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Border mayors take concerns to Blair

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By Nick Seebruch
Border mayors take concerns to Blair
A screencapture of the virtual meeting of 11 border mayors and Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.

CORNWALL, Ontario – Mayors along the Canada-U.S. border raised concerns and issues they were hearing from their constituents to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in a virtual meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement participated in the discussion and raised issues that ranged from families experiencing hardships due to being separated by the closed border to the need for rapid COVID-19 testing at points of entry.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed since March to most traffic save for a few exceptions to help combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The federal government in partnership with the U.S. have regularly extended the closure month-to-month with the current closure scheduled to expire Sept. 21, with the expectation that it will again be renewed.

The meeting with Blair was organized by Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Christian Provenzano and allowed local officials to bring the concerns of their constituents to the federal government.

“It is important always for municipal officials to inform government process because we are the closest to what people are saying in the community,” said Mayor Bernadette Clement.

Clement explained that while most are in favour of keeping the border closed, there are some who are experiencing hardships because of it.

“What I’ve been hearing mostly is that people are satisfied with the border closure and that it makes sense for their safety,” she said. “That’s the majority, but I have been made aware of residents who are separated from their families.”

Clement went on to say that she appreciated all of those who reached out to her with their concerns and difficult experiences and that she passed that information on to Minister Blair.

In response, Clement said that Blair told the meeting of the Mayors that within the next few weeks the federal government hopes to unveil a plan to deal with these compassionate cases and ease the hardship.

When the border does begin to reopen, it will be incremental and in partnership with border municipalities.

“We didn’t get the impression that we were on the eve of a reopening yet,” Clement said. “That is why doing something for those in compassionate situations is so important right now.”

READ MORE: OPINION: The border should remain closed

This week Mayor Clement also met with her counterpart Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA), the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) and Bloc Quebecoise MP Claude DeBellefeuille who’s riding of Salaberry—Suroît contains a part of Akwesasne.

The territory of Akwesasne stradles the borders of Quebec, Ontario, and New York State. The Cornwall Port of Entry is traditionally the tenth most busy border crossing in Canada, mostly thanks to local traffic.

The meeting between the Mayor, Grand Chief, Quebec MP, and CBSA was to ensure that all parties involved at the Cornwall Port of Entry understood the challenges that residents were facing because of the border closure.

“It was a meeting for information purposes so we all understood what this border closure means for Cornwall and for Akwesasne,” said Clement.

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