Closed border putting strain on some local relationships

Contributed photoBryan Cogan's family has been split by the closed border between New York and Canada. A truck driver by trade, Cogan lives less than 45 minutes away from the home he owns in Niagara Falls, but doesn't have the right to go from home to work.

Brian Cogan is a former long-haul trucker. He lives in Ontario where he drives local routes and makes a living — but where he’d really like to be is reunited with his girlfriend and her two children who live in Niagara Falls, NY.

Cogan is just one of over 2,000 individuals who have become a part of “The Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border” group. Since the closing of the Canadian-American border couples have been stranded without the support of their partners, and while government officials on both sides of the border have shown public support for these individuals, it’s been too little for people like Cogan.

“I had a heart attack, four years this September,” Cogan said. “While I was lying in the hospital, I thought, ‘Life is too short, and I need to reach out and see friends.’ I used to be a workaholic, that’s all I ever did.”

Cogan, once released, visited friends state-side where he was put in the situation of observing domestic violence in the home of someone he considered to be a friend.

“Right in front of me, he grabbed her and went to go punch her,” Cogan said and a fist fight started. Cogan threw his friend out of the house, and the police were called. He spent the next few days in a hotel room.

After that, Cogan left the country but continued to communicate via phone with Patricia, the victim of the attack. When she had enough of situation, he helped her move out of her house and started spending every other weekend and vacations with her and her family.

“It wasn’t enough, we wanted to see each other more,” Cogan said. “I took a mortgage out and I bought a house in Niagara Falls, New York.”

The new house was a 45-minute drive from Cogan’s work, and he crossed the border every day. While the two aren’t married – her husband won’t sign the paperwork – they are in a committed relationship, but, as it turns out, that’s not enough to be together during COVID-19.

“We ask the Canadian government this: if NHL players are considered essential, why not engaged or committed but unmarried partners?” asked Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon, co-founder of the Advocacy for Family Reunification at the Canadian Border in regard to those allowed to go over the border. The group has been writing letters every Thursday to the Minister of Public Safety, the Prime Minister, as well as members of Parliament since May 22.

“The idea is to advocate our position – that under current rules – committed couples, such as fiancés are not allowed to reunite with their Canadian partners given the COVID travel restrictions,” Edward-Ooi Poon said.

On this side of the border, Theresa Kennedy, a representative of Congressman Brian Higgins (D- NY 26th District) wrote that Higgins had asked for the definition of essential travel be expanded to include: travel to visit family, travel to manage business interests, and travel to inspect or manage personal property. Such a provision would allow Cogan to travel to New York to inspect his home in Niagara Falls.

On June 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an exception to allow for people to enter Canada to visit family if they agree to a two-week quarantine. This move however, depended on a marriage license.

“We believe a legal (declaration) of commitment is sufficient evidence a committed relationship,” Edward-Ooi Poon said. He noted there are several reasons why couples do not marry, social, as well as legal. Region, for instance, could be a big reason, he said. However, he said, a legal agreement could be made to hold the couple accountable.

“It would just be a legal form at the border,” he said.

This goes for long relationships, like Cogan’s which is now three-and-a-half years old, as well as newer relationships. The group’s June 25 press release noted mental health issues were growing and “a desire to offer support to loved ones” was the factor behind its emergence.

Karen Prisk only met her boyfriend in December, but that something bloomed in their time together. She said the closed border situation is destroying their relationship. She lives in Ontario and he lives in Niagara Falls.

“Our relationship is somewhat coming to an end because of the border situation,” Prisk said. “It was a pretty rushed relationship. During those times, that’s when you’re supposed to be hanging out, and having fun, and cuddling and holding hands. (The border situation) is making it really difficult to learn about each other without having that physical contact as well.”

“I was hopping over the border three or four times a week,” she continued. “We were together quite a bit. So, things were moving forward pretty quickly, but who can be the judge of how fast a relationship should have to move? However, now being four months at a distance, you’re trying to learn about somebody. You’re trying to learn about trusting and getting to know that person. And the closed border is making it difficult.”

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