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Minnesota senator asks State Department to help resolve Northwest Angle border issue

In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said she has pressed Canadian officials since last summer on border issues affecting Northwest Angle residents. The response has been “very disappointing, honestly,” she said.

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Signs greet visitors to the Northwest Angle on Lake of the Woods County Road 49 at the Minnesota-Manitoba border. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
Brad Dokken / Grand Forks Herald

Efforts to resolve the difficulties facing Northwest Angle residents who have to travel through Canada to get to and from their homes continued Wednesday, April 7, with a letter U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking the U.S. State Department to address new Canadian restrictions.

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith

Because of border restrictions imposed by Canada in mid-February, anyone crossing into the country by road has been required to present a negative PCR COVID-19 test. The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel since March 21, 2020, but Angle residents have been able to pass through Canada for essential services such as grocery shopping and health care in border communities such as Roseau and Warroad, Minn.



While Canada's PCR testing requirement targeted travelers, Canada Border Services Agency officers recently have imposed the restriction on some Northwest Angle residents trying to return to their homes. The situation prompted Smith to write Wednesday’s letter pressing the State Department to get involved.
“Minnesota’s Northwest Angle cannot be accessed by land without traveling briefly through Canada,” Smith wrote in her letter to Secretary of State Blinken. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian government has severely restricted cross-border travel, and the uniform policy that treats all cross-border travel equally creates major problems for exclaves like the Northwest Angle.

“The effect of these policies is to prohibit Americans from traveling to their homes, and they have starved tourism-reliant business owners of their customer base,” Smith added. “By ignoring the unique circumstance of this community, Canadian officials have placed undue hardship on American citizens.”

In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Smith said she has pressed Canadian officials since last summer on border issues affecting Northwest Angle residents. The response has been “very disappointing, honestly,” she said.

“We have to come up with a better solution for the folks that live and work on the Northwest Angle,” Smith said. “They have told us that they understand that this is a challenge, but they really don't have any viable solutions.”

She added: “I think that they just honestly haven’t gone to the trouble of figuring out something that could work.”

The hope is that the State Department can “come up with a resolution that will work for the residents and visitors of the Northwest Angle,” said Smith, who visited the Northwest Angle in 2019.

“There ought to be a way that people can just go straight through, never get out of their car and end up back in the United States when they cross the border again,” she said.

Smith’s letter comes on the heels of a panel discussion U.S. Reps. Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber, both R-Minn., hosted Tuesday, April 6, in International Falls, Minn., to learn about border issues facing the constituents they represent. Canadian Members of Parliament Marcus Powlowski and Dan Mazier attended the meeting via Zoom.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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