P.E.I.'s COVID-19 response 'heavy-handed,' says man moving to Magdalen Islands

A man who moved from Ontario to the Magdalen Islands says his experience driving through P.E.I. during the pandemic left him not wanting to visit the province again.

'I felt kind of vilified on social media'

'It worked well until we got across the Confederation Bridge onto P.E.I. and that's where some problems began,' says Kevin Penhorwood. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

A man who moved from Ontario to the Magdalen Islands says when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Prince Edward Island won't be at the top of his list of places to visit because of the experience he had driving through the province.

Kevin Penhorwood said he felt "vilified" after a photo of his U-Haul began circulating on social media and someone called police when he tried to collect a curbside pickup at a Charlottetown grocery store. 

Penhorwood and his wife purchased a new home in the Magdalen Islands before the pandemic hit.

"We thought it was going to be a fairly simple move, even though it was a fair distance, and then COVID happened," he said. "That threw a whole other wrench into the system."

Penhorwood was living in Ontario and had to pass that province, Quebec, New Brunswick and P.E.I. to get to the Magdalen Islands. He said he contacted each province he would have to travel through to make sure he had proper documentation and permission.

That included written permission to travel through Quebec, which he obtained from that province's public health office, and documentation proving he had purchased his new home and had a job as an essential worker in the Magdalen Islands.

"I had to speak with the RCMP to get permission to cross from Quebec into New Brunswick, which I did and I had some paperwork for that," he said.

Penhorwood says when he crossed the Confederation Bridge he was told to drive directly to Souris, P.E.I., and not stop along the way. (Kevin Penhorwood)

"I called P.E.I. I guess more like a month ago and they said what I had from the government of Quebec and New Brunswick was enough for them," he said.

According to P.E.I.'s Department of Justice and Public Safety, essential travel within the province includes residents of Quebec travelling to the Magdalen Islands, which are part of that province.

When Penhorwood started his trip, P.E.I. required travellers to give 36 hours' notice that they were coming to the province. Penhorwood said he gave the province 72 hours' notice, sending an email on May 17  — but he said he did not get a response back.

In an email to CBC, provincial officials said they cannot comment on individual cases but know there are many reasons why people want to come to the province.

"Given the unexpectedly higher than anticipated volume, there has been a time delay in responding to applicants. The expected response time has recently been changed to 72 hours due to the volume of requests," the email said.

Smooth sailing

Penhorwood said he and his wife had a smooth trip from Ontario to New Brunswick. They stayed in a motel for a night in Quebec and provided documentation at the checkpoints along the way.

"We showed them the paperwork and we did our due diligence. We had a mask on while we were speaking," he said.

Penhorwood says he and his wife were able to get on the ferry with no issues this past Saturday afternoon. (Kevin Penhorwood)

Throughout the trip Penhorwood said he and his wife followed isolation recommendations. He said they only paid for gas at the pump, wore gloves, and used hand sanitizer and masks.

"It worked well until we got across the Confederation Bridge onto P.E.I. and that's where some problems began," he said.

Penhorwood said he provided the person at the checkpoint with his documents. When he handed over confirmation for a Charlottetown hotel room,  he was told he couldn't stay there.

"We were told from that border checkpoint we were to drive directly to Souris, P.E.I., to the ferry terminal," he said.

Penhorwood said the couple was told not to fill up with gas, not to use public washrooms and not to eat at restaurants if possible.

Reported to police

Penhorwood said he needed to set up a curbside pickup at a grocery store so he and his wife would have enough food to complete 14 days of quarantine on the Magdalen Islands.

He said he parked his U-Haul at the back of the lot because it couldn't fit into a delivery parking space.

"A gentleman came up to me in his vehicle and asked me what I thought I was doing," he said.

Penhorwood said he had no intention of going into the store and was trying to get close enough to see the number for curbside pickup so he could call the store and tell them where he parked.

He said he had no issue with the person asking him what he was doing, but he was upset to see a picture of his U-Haul uploaded to Facebook.

"I felt kind of vilified on social media and in fact also he had actually called the police on me," he said, adding people shouldn't jump to conclusions when they see an out-of-province plate.

Police confirmed to CBC no charges or fines were laid.

Penhorwood and his wife slept in their car with their three dogs at the Souris terminal overnight.

"It was a chilly two degrees by the water that night," he said. "It wasn't a very comfortable sleep.

"We understood we couldn't fight city hall so to speak. So we did what we were told to do. We felt it was a bit heavy-handed."

He said he had no issue getting on the ferry this past Saturday afternoon.

Isolating in Quebec

Penhorwood and his wife are now at their new home in the Magdalen Islands and he said things are lot different there compared to P.E.I.

"No phone calls here on the Magdalens. Nobody stopping by, whether it be police or community health."

Penhorwood said the rules and recommendations don't seem to be uniform across the country.

"I really think people just need to use some common sense and I mean if they see something overtly, you know, dangerous … somebody coughing on elevator buttons, things of that nature should absolutely be reported," he said.

However, if travellers are showing they're being careful, he thinks "it should be left up to them to do their thing."

The rules have changed for travel again since he made his trip. Quebecers who want to drive to the Magdalen Islands in the coming weeks will have to fill out a mandatory form to be able to travel through Atlantic provinces.

"It is important to note that an application does not guarantee or imply approval. Travellers are strongly encouraged to get confirmation from government officials before finalizing their travel arrangements," said an email from the P.E.I. government.

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