Montreal

Gaspé family prevented from attending loved one's burial next door in New Brunswick

Mica Guitard waited two months for the ground to thaw so that she could bury her late father. When that day finally came last Friday, Guitard and her family stood at the Quebec-New Brunswick border, mortified, as an officer blocked them from heading to the funeral. 

Neighbours in Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que., and Campbellton, N.B., call for freedom to move between towns

Mica Guitard, left, and her mother Julie Goudreau were headed to Campbellton, N.B., to bury Rodrigue Guitard Friday when an officer at the New Brunswick border turned them away. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Mica Guitard waited two long months for the ground to thaw so that she could bury her late father. When that day finally came last Friday, Guitard and her family stood at the Quebec-New Brunswick border, mortified, as an officer turned them away — preventing them from getting to the funeral.

Guitard lives in the small town of Pointe-à-la-Croix in Quebec's Gaspé region, across the Restigouche River from Campbellton, N.B. Her father, Rodrigue Guitard, was to be buried in a cemetery in Campbellton, his home town.

The two closely interlinked towns are separated only by a bridge, however, border agents currently control who can travel between them, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Residents are permitted to travel between regions for essential services only. 

Guitard and her family, as well as the funeral home where the services were being held, all believed that her father's burial would be considered essential. But when they arrived at the border last week, the family learned otherwise. 

"I was super emotional. It's already an emotional day, and then you prepare yourself to do that, you want to say prayers, you want to say your last goodbye, and you get blocked to do that," Guitard told CBC's Quebec AM Tuesday. 

"I was devastated — and the rest of our family was, also." 

Guitard was especially taken aback because her mother had been allowed to cross the border just a week prior to that, when she headed to the funeral home to make the arrangements for her husband's burial.

"He died on the 5th of March, so he was kept for the rest of the winter in the cemetery shelter, and it was planned that when the snow melted," Guitard said. "We needed to go have the burial ceremony."

"We are Baháʼí, so we do not embalm the body, and it's really important that as soon as it gets hot, we need to go to bury him."  

This is the spot where Rodrigue Guitard was to be buried, on the New Brunswick side of the Restigouche River. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Rodrigue Guitard was a well-known and well-loved member of the Pointe-à-la-Croix community. But his family had planned on commemorating his life in a small funeral service with only eight people in attendance — respecting physical-distancing measures. 

When the agent prevented the family from crossing the border last week, he told them he was only following public health regulations, and the burial was considered non-essential. But the next day, when Guitard's mother called public security authorities, she got an entirely different response. 

"The person said that it should have never happened, and there was some kind of mistake at some point because a burial is something essential," Guitard said. 

"And then she finally gave us a pass that we needed." 

Guitard was frustrated that no one had told them earlier they need that special pass. She feels the details of the rules have been unclear. 

"It didn't make any sense what happened to us," she said. "I would never wish that on anybody."

Bridge protest attracts 400

More than 400 residents of Pointe-à-la-Croix and Campbellton gathered on the bridge that separates the two regions Monday, calling for restrictions to be lifted. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

In a statement to CBC News, New Brunswick's public safety office said the health and safety of its residents is a priority. 

"An average of 509 vehicles attempt to cross into Campbellton [daily]," the statement said. "Of those vehicles, an average of 18 vehicles a day were denied entry."

"All unnecessary travel into New Brunswick is prohibited, and peace officers are authorized to turn visitors away when they attempt to enter." 

Quebec residents may be allowed to enter for essential groceries, prescription medications or medical services.

Border restrictions between the two regions have been controversial since the start of the pandemic. More than 400 people, including Guitard, showed up at a protest on the bridge between Pointe-à-la-Croix and Campbellton Monday. 

Residents of both provinces stood on the bridge in masks, calling for freedom to move between the two communities.

With files from CBC's Quebec AM

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