The COVID-19 situation has changed the usual back-and-forth traffic across the boundaries between Ontario and Québec.

On April 1, the Sureté du Québec (SQ) began conducting occasional checkpoints to reduce non-essential travel into certain regions of the province to contain the spread of COVID-19.  These checkpoints have been a regular occurrence on the northbound lanes of the Long-Sault Bridge for more than a month.

Beginning today (May 4), Québec will begin discontinuing the checkpoints in the Laurentian region, which includes the MRC d’Argenteuil.

Drivers have not had to turn back at the Québec checkpoints if the reason for their travel is related to essential business or for humanitarian reasons.  Québec residents are also allowed to return home and do not have to self-isolate if they can prove they were in Ontario for essential reasons.

Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly said Québec had the authority to establish the checkpoints in its jurisdiction.

“I am aware of some people from Ontario who have been ticketed. I can understand their frustration.  However, this is the government of Québec’s call and people must respect the measure which it decided to put in place,” Assaly said.

Some Hawkesbury residents have complained that no similar checkpoint was established by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) on the Ontario-bound lanes of the Long Sault Bridge.

“I have been asked several times why Hawkesbury did not do the same yet explained that it was within the jurisdiction of the Ontario government to make that decision,” said Assaly.

Hawkesbury is not the only town on or near a provincial boundary that has had traffic challenges associated with COVID-19.

Amherst is the first town drivers on the Trans-Canada Highway go past when they enter Nova Scotia from New Brunswick.  Amherst Mayor David Kogon, who is also a medical doctor, said there are challenges for border towns during this pandemic.  Unlike Hawkesbury, Amherst has a municipal police force, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick use the RCMP instead of having a provincial police force.

“The basic regulations are that if you cross into Nova Scotia you must self-isolate for two weeks.  No one is supposed to cross over for non-essential personal reasons. Exemptions exist for people who work in essential services,” said Kogon.

RCMP have been stopping traffic as it enters Nova Scotia on the Trans-Canada Highway.  Three exits from the highway go into Amherst. New Brunswick residents who work in essential services in Amherst are only supposed to go to their workplaces, and not go shopping while they are in town.  Kogon said that rule is not always being observed and that the municipal police have been stopping, questioning, and in some cases fining those who contravene the regulations.  Kogon said that the police force has reported to town council that the extra responsibilities are “quite onerous” for them in addition to their regular duties.

In Edmundston New Brunswick, which is 10 kilometres from Québec on the Trans-Canada Highway and across the Saint John River from the state of Maine, Mayor Cyrille Simard said he is not aware of any local people facing challenges from crossing either boundary as they travel to or from work in Edmundston.

Simard visited Hawkesbury in 2019 to share Edmundston’s experience as a welcoming community for francophone immigrants as Hawkesbury began a project to attract francophone emigrants to the local labour force.