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Tearful, distant "reunions" for border families separated by Canada's COVID rules

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Euereka Border Crossing Station
Posted at 12:46 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 12:16:26-04

EUREKA — For families in our Canadian border communities, it's been a year of separation, tears and sacrifice but there's still hope Washington and Ottawa can find a solution as pandemic restrictions drag on.

The Port of Roosville is eerily quiet now. Outside of the occasional semi, or wandering sheep, no one is crossing the border. And that's been hard on families, people like Charlie, who shares a stepdaughter and 4-year old son with Brandy Carvey of Eureka.

In normal times, Charlie would have a short drive if he wanted to visit the rest of his family since he lives not far away in Grasmere, British Columbia. Instead, now it's a trip of thousands of miles if he wants to be reunited with his son.

“It's pretty crazy because before I could just drive," explains Charlie. "I live seven minutes up the road from here. Now I gotta drive four hours to Calgary. Get on a plane. Fly from Calgary to Denver and Denver to Kalispell. Then get Brandy to drive up to come pick me up just come see my family.”

Charlie asked MTN News to protect his identity because he doesn't want to make it even more difficult to cross the border. When he goes home after seeing Colt and his stepdaughter he's found it's easier to walk than to spend nearly $1,000 to fly back.

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"Brandy drops me off and I go across the border. Then I gotta quarantine for 14 days and then they called me to check up on me and even send the police to come and make sure that I'm following the guidelines for it," Charlie explained.

For Carvey -- and more than a dozen others -- it was a chance to share frustration, and some tears, as their Canadian relatives gathered north of the line. It's a division of politics and pandemic, but not love.

“There's auntie Shelly," Carvey told Colt, who responded with a yell. "Hi, Auntie Shelly. Hi Papa!”

The pain is deep. Shannon Sellers had only reunited with her Canadian high school sweetheart, who she met years ago at the Kootenai rodeo.

“We kind of did our own separate things and he got married and had kiddos. I ended up having a kiddo and then we actually got back in contact again in 2019. It was like we never lost touch," Shannon shared as her voice started to break.

They got engaged, three months before COVID shut things down.

“It's hard. It is definitely extremely hard, especially when you found your person after so many years, and then that person just kind of got ripped away.”

Now, the couple can only visit through online video chats, trying to explain to the children what's happened. It's a tough assignment, especially for a 6-year old.

"Our nightly routine now is the youngest, when she's with her dad, she has to take his phone to bed and I have to stay on the phone with her until she falls asleep because she just cries.”

A few yards away, sister-in-laws Tammy and Sandy Bozarth, wave to their relatives between passing semis hauling wood chips. It's the first time they've seen family, and a daughter married to a B.C. man.

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“It's heartbreaking, it is very heartbreaking. You know you're so close and you can’t get over there," Sandy says emotionally. "Like the Grand Canyon is in between, you know?" adds Tammy.

“My mother, her grandmother is in a nursing home and she hasn’t been able to see her for a year. And they’re very close. Very close. And haven’t been able to see her for a year. You know, that's been, incredibly hard," Sandy said, never taking her eyes from her loved ones just out of reach, 100-yards away. "We have two cousins in Fernie that we haven’t been able to see. This is hard for everybody.”

“It's the Tobacco Valley, no matter which side of this imaginary line you're on," observed Lincoln County Commissioner Josh Letcher. "And like my grandparents live right there -- 200 yards from here. And we haven't seen them in over a year. My aunt lives there. Haven't seen her in over a year now. You know, they used all come down here and go to school.”

Carvey is hoping the demonstration catches the attention of leaders on both sides of the border, with hopes of easing some of the pandemic restrictions, at least for families.

“We're just hoping for essential travel, that they deem family essential. That grandparents don't have to fly halfway around, you know, the states to get here, and maybe that Canada will lessen quarantine a little bit just so that the families can be together. Because as of right now, there's no way. I own a business, so I can't travel for the 14 days they need up there. And his dad works so he can only come down every five to six weeks for a visit. And it's not a long one, you know.”

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"It's brutal," Charlie added, "because I basically have to choose what side of the family, either my family in Canada or my family down here. And then, my livelihood is at stake because I can't work."

"It's a whole community story," Letcher points out. "And you know people go to work up there. People come to work down here. And this imaginary line is completely divided it, for what reason I don't know.”

We asked Carvey -- who's been holding back tears herself as she organizes her friends to show their signs to passing trucks -- what it's like to look over and see her loved ones so close.

“It's hard watching my kids cry. Very hard.”

And today, the picture isn't looking better north of the border.

Canadian health leaders are alarmed over another spike in COVID cases over the past two weeks, and British Columbia is returning to even tighter restrictions to try and reverse the trend.