Listuguj residents report harassment, hampered access to services in N.B.

·4 min read

To the residents of Quebec's Listuguj First Nation, Campbellton is a lifeline to health care, schools, shopping and work.

But it's a lifeline that has been repeatedly twisted, tested and torn as the pandemic has unfolded. The latest twist came last weekend — and this time, some residents on both sides of the border say, it was one twist too many.

Effective Saturday, Jan. 23, the provincial government tightened the border-crossing rules for anyone coming into New Brunswick. The measures followed spiralling outbreaks and the decision to impose a full lockdown in the Edmundston region.

Residents of Listuguj First Nation and Pointe-à-la-Croix coming to Campbellton were allowed to continue to cross the border for medical appointments and child custody arrangements, and to buy essential items.

But visits were cut from the previous twice-a-week allowance to once a week, with a new stipulation that travellers would have to undergo weekly COVID-19 tests and provide proof of negative results.

By Monday, the Listuguj Mi'gmaq First Nation government was expressing concern about reports of mistreatment and denial of access to services across the bridge.

Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada file photo
Isabelle Larose/Radio-Canada file photo

Some residents afraid to make the trip to N.B.

In a statement on its website, leaders urged community members to report any issues to them, noting they were "concerned with the stories we've heard … regarding mistreatment, harassment, denial of services, refusal of entry and/or access to essential goods and services across the bridge."

Many have already come forward to do so.

"We've been hearing these stories for a while, at least three a week come to us, and others are posting on Facebook," administrative clerk Christy Metallic told CBC News on Tuesday.

Residents say they're afraid to make the trip across the bridge, worried they'll face harassment or racist comments, or that their car might get keyed.

"We've heard about verbal confrontations, we've heard about being people chased out because they had Quebec plates," Metallic said.

In one instance, she said, a resident reported that they were shopping for a snowsuit for their child, who was with them.

"A border patrol agent followed them right into the store … they were being followed" and felt threatened, Metallic said.

Residents are also frustrated by the new requirement for a weekly COVID-19 test, which entails planning in advance, booking a test and waiting for results.

In their own Listuguj community, there are now just three active cases. In Campbellton, there are 16.

Julia Page/CBC News file photo
Julia Page/CBC News file photo

'We are one community, separated by a bridge'

Residents are saying that their constitutional rights are being trampled, and Campbellton Chamber of Commerce president Luc Couturier said he wholeheartedly agrees.

"Testing once a week? I have no idea where that came from," Couturier said.

"What's the message you are giving people? What about people who have to come here for work, the grocery store workers, the nurses and others? The rules are so tight it's almost like they're trying to tell them 'Don't bother coming at all.' "

Couturier, who is himself a business owner in Campbellton, said he has not seen any instances of denial of service or mistreatment of Listuguj or Pointe-à-la-Croix residents and can't fathom that it would be coming from business owners.

"I have a restaurant and I serve anybody. I'm not border patrol," he said. "We are one community, separated by a bridge. We have relatives on both sides of the border, we depend on each other, we are linked. We always have been."

Couturier said he is so upset by the new rules, particularly the mandatory weekly tests, he has written to Premier Blaine Higgs and hopes to discuss the situation with him in the coming days.

Metallic said residents' concerns are being collected and will be passed on to Listuguj leaders. Their chief will also be requesting a meeting with Higgs, she said.

CBC News requested comment about the recent rule changes and Listuguj residents' reported concerns from the provincial government and from Campbellton Mayor Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin, who declined to comment.

In an email, provincial government spokesperson Geoffrey Downey said they are looking into the matter but could not immediately respond.