New Brunswick

College student says inconsistent border enforcement makes no sense, leaves students confused

The first time Robyn Hedden tried to cross the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border, she was turned away. The next day, she was waved through without much hassle.

New Brunswick has banned all non-essential travel, but still trying to clarify exactly what is essential

Compliance officers check vehicles at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border near Amherst. Robyn Hedden was turned away one day, but allowed in the next. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The first time Robyn Hedden tried to cross the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border, she was turned away. The next day, she was waved through without much hassle.

Between those two attempts, her reason for trying to enter hadn't changed.

Hedden, who lives in Nova Scotia, was going back to Moncton to attend her optometry labs at Oulton College. Her labs are resuming with the province's blessing as part of the slow recovery plan from total COVID-19 shut down.

She made the two-hour drive to the border, but said one officer turned her away and the unclear rules meant she didn't know whether she could enter New Brunswick.  She said the inconsistency "makes no sense."

"There should be an actual list of what you need in order to come in," she said. "It shouldn't be like 'I could have gotten turned away again today and have to go back to Nova Scotia'."

Hedden said she has heard from other students trying to get back to New Brunswick who don't live close enough to the border to make multiple attempts.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer, says the province is working towards clarifying border rules. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)

New Brunswick's chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell previously said provincial officials are meeting to put a finer point on who's allowed in and who isn't. 

On Friday the province announced all in-person programs at post-secondary institutions are allowed to resume, subject to the COVID-19 directives from Public Health — but virtual education options "should be continued wherever possible."

Department of Public Safety spokesperson Geoffrey Downey said over the last ten days, New Brunswick has allowed entry to an average of 1,680 personal vehicles daily, and turned away an average of 38.6.

He said on average, 22.2 passengers arrived by air in Moncton each day over the past ten days and 19.4 in Fredericton. A total of 6 people who arrived by air have been turned away and escorted to return flights.

"Everyone permitted to enter meets the definition of essential travel in the order."

What is essential?

The emergency declaration says only essential travel is allowed interprovincially. It defines essential travellers as people returning home from being away, people who work or receive medical treatment in New Brunswick and commercial vehicle drivers.

It also allows travel to facilitate children who split their time between parents, and includes an exemption for Campobello residents and some residents of Quebec.

The State of Emergency Act gives the province power to enforce the declaration. 

But Hedden's case is not mentioned, and neither are cases of people with family emergencies, people transiting through or people who own property in the province.

What do New Brunswick’s border rules look like and how are they enforced?

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Now that the New Brunswick COVID-19 curve is flat, risk lies at the borders. What’s considered essential and non-essential travel, and how is New Brunswick making sure people coming in are following safety rules?

Downey perviously said those travelling through would be allowed.

Hedden said she still doesn't understand why one officer turned her away, and the other let her in.

"I'm sure I'm not the only one in this situation," she said.

And she's not the only one alleging the province is inconsistent in its application of the rules.

Pointe de la Croix M​​​​​ayor Pascal Bujold said people from his Quebec community depend on stores in Campbellton for essentials. His town is named in the emergency declaration, but he said it's still unpredictable whether border officers will allow you into New Brunswick.

"It's inconsistent the way that they address the situation," he said. "I have citizens that can cross for certain things, but sometimes they can't."

Turned away, then allowed in

On Wednesday, a peace officer turned Hedden away because he didn't believe her classes were restarting, she said, even after she showed him emails on her phone from her college outlining the timeline. 

She said she called the province, the RCMP and a Moncton-area MLA and still did not know why she wasn't allowed in, what proof she needed to make a valid argument or whether she could try to cross again. 

The next day she made the two-hour drive to the border again.

This time she was armed with printouts of government guidelines and a printed letter from her college certifying that her program is restarting.

But once she got there, a different border agent asked her if she had any symptoms, why she wanted to enter, and was satisfied with her verbal answers. 

Hedden is now self-isolating for 14 days before she starts attending labs. She said she bought hundreds of dollars worth of groceries with her so she wouldn't have to worry about breaking the rules to get supplies.

Oulton college restarting

Oulton College president Darcie Reidpath said the college is staggering a reopening of multiple health sciences labs, including optometry, veterinary technician and medical technician. Classes have been cancelled since the state of emergency was declared, she said, but it's important for the college to reopen some practical learning to avoid too many delays.

She said the college is not punishing students who can't make it back because of border restrictions.

Oulton College president Darcie Robichaud says labs are being slowly restarted according to provincial rules and regulations. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

"We're not asking the students from away to come back if they can't come back," she said. "That's all part of the staggered integration back into lab. We'll keep our lab groups flexible enough that when the time is right for them to return, we'll take care of them."

Reidpath said the college is providing letters to students who need to cross provincial borders in hopes of clearing a path.

"We're providing them with a sort of a letter of enrolment so that it validates for the border crossing that they are in fact a student in such and such a program."

Along with that, the college is also providing students with the documentation to prepare an appropriate self isolation plan. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hadeel Ibrahim is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Saint John. She reports in English and Arabic. Email: hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca.

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