Border patrols close off last road to Labrador — but protection comes at a cost
Road along the southern coast now blocked off to non-essential travellers
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."
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.
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."
With files from Labrador Morning