A Vancouver woman is asking New Brunswick to review the province’s COVID-19 travel restrictions after being denied permission to enter the province in order to bury her mother.
Lesley Shannon, who grew up in Rothesay, N.B., is questioning why her situation does not fall under the province’s compassionate travel exemption.
“I just wonder what it takes to be considered compassionate and worthy of compassion,” she said.
“It’s my mother. My father has passed. The only people left are my brother and I. My mother was a resident of Rothesay since 1982 … and she’s not worthy, in death, of any respect? That breaks my heart.”
According to provincial spokesperson Shawn Berry, the province grants some exemptions for “in-home end of life visitation; end of life visitation in a hospital, nursing home or hospice to provide care for a person in need of in-home support; to receive in-home care; or to provide or receive child care services that are not available by other means.”
Between May 11 and May 22 the province received 135 compassionate travel applications.
Of those, 84 requests were approved, 39 were refused and 12 required more information before a decision could be made.
But even getting to the point where her application could be heard was a serpentine process that lasted for two and a half weeks.
Shannon called numerous people at New Brunswick’s public health department and was referred again and again until finally she was able to apply for a letter of exemption last Wednesday.
The letter detailed plans for how exactly she would be able to self-isolate with her husband and child upon arrival. She is not planning to hold a funeral or celebration of life.
Her request was denied the next day.
“On Thursday they called me back and told me it was denied and didn’t tell me why. I called back on the Friday and said I’m at least entitled to know why I’m not allowed into the province because it says you’re allowed into the province for essential reasons and compassionate reasons and they said that burial is not considered compassionate,” said Shannon.
“This has been a marathon.”
Shannon’s mother, Lorraine, died on April 13, which was before New Brunswick began posting peace officers at airports to question incoming travellers on April 25.
She says she feels penalized for respecting New Brunswick’s border measures, when she likely could have entered the province without issue in early April.
“I agree that throwing the borders open is a problem, I want people to be safe,” Shannon said.
“I could have failed to respect that, I could have flown home then at the height of the pandemic, but I didn’t.”
Now, Shannon is racing against the clock.
Her mother must be buried before July, and her only family left in the province is her brother, who was able to travel from Ontario before the borders were closed.
Government materials on the province’s reopening plan suggest that border restrictions could remain in place until a vaccine is found.
“We don’t know when there will be [a vaccine]. We don’t know if there will be one,” Shannon said.
“My mother cannot wait that long. She has to be buried by the beginning of July.”
Premier Blaine Higgs and chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell say the province is taking a look at the criteria for compassionate exemptions and may broaden it to include burials, and even funerals.
“We’re looking closely to try to find rules around that and our continued success as a province will continue to help us free up some of these activities,” Higgs said.
“How can we provide that final goodbye where we don’t expose other people.”
But in trying to extend compassion to families, Higgs said a balance must be struck to continue protecting New Brunswickers.
He says that strong border measures and the restrictions on visitation to nursing homes and hospitals are key pillars of the province’s pandemic strategy.
Shannon points out that the province has already implemented systems to allow students and temporary foreign workers to enter the province.
In both cases, people will be allowed into the province and will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
“I don’t understand. If they’ve figured out a process to allow students to arrive if they’ve figured out a process to allow foreign workers to arrive, how is my process so very different?” Shannon asks.
When exactly compassionate exemptions could be extended and if the worsening cluster of cases in Campbellton could put that in jeopardy is unclear, leaving Shannon to hope that she can say goodbye to her mother before she is buried in June.
“The idea that they finally figure this out and I don’t get to bury mother I’m going to have to live with the fact that instead of acting irresponsibly and travelling at the height of the pandemic, I was not able to be there for my mother’s burial,” she said.
“I don’t see how this is respectful.”
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