Parks & Rec

B.C. side of Peace Arch Park remains closed until vax requirement lifts

Decision a departure from park precedent
June 9, 2022 at 5:05 a.m.
Lines of cars heading to Canada pass the Peace Arch in Blaine on Feb. 19.
Lines of cars heading to Canada pass the Peace Arch in Blaine on Feb. 19. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

By CHARLOTTE ALDEN
Staff Reporter

The Canadian side of Peace Arch Park won’t reopen until the British Columbia Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy is able to verify the vaccination status of parkgoers, something that isn’t “feasible at this time,” the Ministry said. 

This marks a change to how the park has normally operated. Peace Arch Park visitors traditionally have not been required to show any documentation to enter the park. But as long as Canadian border restrictions and vaccination requirements are in place, the provincial park will remain closed, the Ministry said. 

The Canadian side of the park closed in June 2020 due to concerns around COVID-19 from the Semiahmoo First Nation. In the first couple months of the pandemic, the park served as a place for families severed by the closed border to meet.  

Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University, said people entering the park shouldn’t be subject to any Canadian entry requirements, as the park was meant to be a place for people to meet without crossing and showing documentation. 

“There could be some strange gray area because (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) at one point started checking documents,” Trautman said. “They started directing Canadians to actually move through the point of entry because of the quarantine.  

“Unless there is some major policy change to the nature of access to Peace Arch Park, it would be a huge departure from current policy to say that people accessing the park could be subject to Canadian entry requirements.” 

The Ministry did not respond to a question on whether there had been a policy change. 

Trautman is involved in the September Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference. One event is intended to be held in the entire Peace Arch Park — the Canadian side included.  

In her conversations with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Canadian consulate on the matter, Trautman said neither had indicated visitors to the park would be subject to Canadian entry requirements. She suggested the issue could be with the Public Health Agency of Canada but said even that doesn’t explain the park closure. 

“It doesn’t make sense to me that the province would be concerned about an entry requirement,” Trautman said. 

While the Canadian side of Peace Arch Park is controlled by B.C. Parks and the provincial government, the Semiahmoo First Nation controls the parking lot. The province pointed to federal border restrictions as a reason why the park has not yet opened but said it is also engaging with Indigenous communities on the issue. 

CBSA wrote in an email that since Peace Arch Provincial Park is not “a designated port of entry,” it’s not responsible for oversight in the park. 

Semiahmoo First Nation spokesperson Benjamin Neff said the First Nation sees this as a B.C. Parks matter and is most concerned with the “continued promotion of public safety,” but did not comment further. 

Trautman said adding entry requirements to the park undermines the symbol of the peace arch.

“It’s basically saying that this is no longer an open peace park as it was designated as being so long ago,” Trautman said. “If there’s a departure from that, it’s very concerning, and it completely undermines the whole intention of that space, which is for people to be together without having to cross the border.” 

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