Ontario families and couples separated by US-Canada border closure

The pandemic has led to many people living in unique circumstances, one of which is the struggle those face who live or work close to the Canada-US border.
Quinn Patrick Montreal, QC

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many people living in unique circumstances, one of which is the struggle those face who live or work close to the Canada-US border. Many people in those situations are also in relationships that require an open border to maintain them, such as Ellie Safari and James Darden, according to Global News.

Safari lives in Windsor and her boyfriend Darden, lives in Detroit with his 18-year-old daughter and mother. Safari would regularly travel across the border to stay with him, or Darden would stay in Windsor.

It had been an easy task to cross the border for either of them in the past and something they did every week but now with the restrictions in place Darden had to make the tough decision to choose where to stay. He chose to stay with Safari in Windsor, to help out with her two young kids as his daughter is old enough to understand the situation.

"It’s definitely not easy seeing families torn apart," said Safari.

"It’s nice that he’s here to help out with the kids," she continued. "But there’s a little bit of guilt as well, because I know he’s missing his oldest daughter and his mom."

Many people just like them have built their entire lives with the idea that border-crossing would never be an issue.

"There are familial relationships, there are child-custody relationships, there are a whole host of things that people are used to doing, because in the city of Windsor we consider Detroit and the greater Detroit area to be an extension of our backyard," said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

"People in Windsor will pop over the border for lunch and then come back. They'll go get gas or groceries and come back — shopping, sports, music, all of that is just an extension of our city."

What's worse is Dilkens doesn't think "a wholesale opening of the border" is coming any time soon. "But I think it’s a loss that everyone’s willing to accept in the short term for the betterment of the whole."

Since Safari and Darden aren't married, Darden can't permanently live in Canada. Up until now, they were fine with spending four days a week in Windsor and three days in Detroit.

For now, they will remain on the Canadian side of the border. Safari has described the feel of Windsor as eerie with so many of the businesses shut down.

Windsor Mayor Dilkens said the financial hit of the cross-border tourism not being option has been "quite significant."

The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel generates a great deal of income which is down down by almost 90 percent. The Caesars Windsor casino is taking a major hit as well.

"We get a dividend based on revenues, and we budget about $12 million annually to come from that operation," said Dilkens, referring to the casino. "We can pretty much write off $3 million immediately from a loss this quarter. And who knows moving forward what this is going to look like."

The necessity of the 1,600 health-care professionals who work on both sides of the border has also caused another problem. Although they may continue to cross the border daily because they are deemed essential workers, there is a false stigma that, "they were a vector for transmission in our community," said Dilkens.

"The stats never showed that," said Dilkens. "In fact, it showed that they were less of a vector than our own health-care workers locally."

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