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Horgan says cross-border tent gatherings at Peace Arch Park a federal issue

VICTORIA — The concerns of Surrey-area residents about the potential spread of COVID-19 as people from British Columbia and the United States meet at a cross-border park should be directed to the federal government, Premier John Horgan said Wednesday
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VICTORIA — The concerns of Surrey-area residents about the potential spread of COVID-19 as people from British Columbia and the United States meet at a cross-border park should be directed to the federal government, Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.

The premier said managing the international border at Peace Arch Park is a federal issue, but he's prepared to take up the matter with Ottawa.

"If we see persistent concerns around Peace Arch, I'll certainly raise that with the federal government and they can take action with their counterparts in Washington, D.C.," Horgan said at a news conference.

"This is not an area that's regulated by the states and the provinces and I'm hopeful that those people who are coming together to see loved ones in that international space are doing so safely."

The border has been closed for months to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but two Surrey-area members of the legislature say in a letter to Horgan that local constituents continue to be worried. 

B.C. Liberals Stephanie Cadieux and Trevor Halford say in the letter Horgan must demand that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee close public access to the park until it is considered safe for non-essential cross-border travel.

"I live right by the park and I can tell you that they're concerned, frustrated and they're nervous," Halford said in an interview. "Basically, Peace Arch Park on the American side has turned into a tent city."

Halford, who represents the Surrey-White Rock riding, said Canadians and Americans are taking advantage of loopholes that permit them to meet in the park and return home without being subject to quarantine restrictions.

"This is an area where you just jump across the ditch on the American side and you can set up a tent and you can meet with your American counterparts for the day," he said.

Horgan said he regularly speaks with Inslee, but that issue hasn't yet been raised.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also has not raised concerns about people at the park, said Horgan, adding action will be taken if she does.

Halford said local residents counted 75 tents in the park last weekend. They also reported seeing people not wearing masks as they entered and left the tents, he said.

"We're talking about a piece of land that is just a little bit bigger than a football field," he said.

Last June, the province shut down the B.C. side of the park, citing public safety concerns with increased visitors.

"Obviously, the premier agrees with what we're saying here because the premier took steps to shut the Canadian side down, which is a provincial park," Halford said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press