Nfld. & Labrador

Border patrols close off last road to Labrador — but protection comes at a cost

In a town that didn't really see a border between Quebec and Labrador, locking down the Big Land was a necessary, but difficult, decision.

Road along the southern coast now blocked off to non-essential travellers

The latest effort to keep Labrador coronavirus-free means separating close-knit communities on the southern coast. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

New border patrols halting non-essential travel between Quebec and Labrador are throwing the sacrifices of isolation into high relief as the region's leaders try to protect residents from coronavirus spread.

The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador enacted border stops between Blanc-Sablon, Que., and communities along Labrador's south coast starting Monday, mirroring measures already in place along the northern land route.

That means no family visits — not even for a funeral.

Chad Letto, mayor of L'Anse-au-Clair, says while there's a sense of relief for a neighbour to Canada's hardest-hit province, the harsh divide has been difficult for residents unaccustomed to noticing any physical separation between Quebec and Labrador.

"We don't really see the border," Letto said Tuesday. "It's families intertwined between the two provinces, there's businesses intertwined, they use stuff down here to purchase, we go up there to purchase different things.

"When the border did get closed off by the Quebec [patrols] … it was hard to handle."

In one instance, a close relative living in Quebec was recently unable to grieve with family after a death, despite being just a few kilometres away, Letto said. 

"All the people in Labrador have been asking for … a total shutdown," he said. "But everybody's wishing for the day we can slowly go back to normality."

Protecting residents

Calls to lock down Labrador came steadily from leaders across the region as coronavirus cases increased. 

After some logistical hurdles, the province was able to train and employ ad hoc enforcement agents pulled from the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources and the Labrador-Grenfell regional health authority.

Letto said prior to that decision, Labradorians had been feeling a double standard as Quebec increased its own patrols.

Chad Letto, mayor of L'anse Au Clair and president of the combined councils of Labrador, says the decision to seal off the Big Land hasn't been without sacrifice. File photo. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Lisa Dempster, MHA for Cartwright–L'Anse au Clair, echoed those comments on Tuesday.

"Folks were concerned," she said. "They felt like, if us Labradorians are heading to the border, we have to show documentation that we're either going to the ferry, or to the airport or for health reasons.

"But increasingly we were getting feedback that, 'Well, you know, it's not quite a two-way street. We're seeing Quebecers come down into Labrador and we're concerned.'"

Labrador currently has no active cases of COVID-19, as all three patients have recovered. With the high caseload in Quebec, Dempster said, the province had been trying to figure out how to tighten border monitoring with the resources at hand.

Letto pointed to Labrador's demographics, with a high population of elderly residents, as a major motivator for the decision.

Public servants now in place have the power to prevent travellers from entering.

"If they see folks are not able to prove that they are crossing for an essential reason," Dempster said, "they will be able to stop them."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Malone Mullin is a reporter in St. John's who previously worked in Vancouver and Toronto. News tip? Reach her at malone.mullin@cbc.ca.

With files from Labrador Morning

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now