For the Love of Us – Families Are Essential was a friendly rally of people who are missing and longing for their loved ones on Canadian or American soil, held on Sunday, April 11.
I spoke with Wendy Teal, Fort Erie resident and professional photographer, who attended the rally and posted her many photos on Facebook, tagging several media sources in attempts to capture their attention.
“It was about awareness. Yes, the border needs to be closed, but we are still hurting. This is to give those hurting a voice. Nobody was there with the intentions of protesting.” Teal clarified, after sharing there were some concerns.
It was because love knows no borders and it’s just that they needed to do — something.
According to Wendy, the event was planned through the Facebook Group, Families Are Essential, now reaching almost 600 members, both Canadian and American.
It was for all border crossings. “So, at the same time it was going on in Fort Erie, it was happening in Detroit, Sarnia, across the border. Sandy Pearce spearheaded the event. She and Michelle McElroy started the Group, and it went from there.”
“We are not fighting to reopen the border, we are just fighting to be reunited with our families and loved ones,” Pearce, a U.S. citizen and permanent resident of Canada who has lived in Ontario for the past 41 years, told CTV News Toronto.
It’s just a 15-minute drive from her house to her 89-year-old mother and 92-year-old father. But the pandemic restrictions at the border and the 14-day mandatory quarantine rules upon returning to Canada means Pearce can’t go over to help her parents.
“A lot of people can’t quarantine because they have to work,” she told CTV News. “How can I take two weeks off every time I go over? I can’t go over and come back and quarantine. And I can’t just go over very six months. My parents need help.”
Teal shared about the rally, “Every single person there had such a sad story to tell. One girl shared with me that a friend of hers committed suicide in the States and she couldn’t be there for her. There was one couple who has been separated. He was on the other side with a sign that said, I love Tammy, and Tammy was on our side.”
Wendy was there for support. “My friend Tina’s mom, June, died almost a year ago and she was born in Buffalo. She needs her ashes to be buried in Buffalo. Tina’s says, ‘I can’t even put my mother to rest.'”
Her friend’s sign simple read, “Let my mom rest in peace.”
While her role at the gathering was to support and document with her photography, Wendy’s motivations to attend were also personal. “For me, my sister, Judy, is over there. I haven’t seen her since this has started. Her son, my nephew, was killed in Buffalo in May. We haven’t been able to have a funeral. I haven’t even been able to give her a hug. It’s really affected her, to not have family around her after that.”
Wendy’s son has also been affected. “Ryan met an American several years ago. They had a back and forth relationship. They got engaged on New Year’s Eve of 2018. Ryan came home to Fort Erie while doing his immigration papers. I was thinking he’d be home for maybe three months. He’s still here, stuck. They’ve been separated since the summer of 2019.”
Teal described the day, down by the border, including, “We were constantly in touch with Buffalo because Sheila MacDonald was on the Buffalo side and her sister Tina was on this side. Tina Wurzer was on this side and her daughter was on the Buffalo side. The Fort Erie and Buffalo groups were even Face Timing each other. “
We talked about people being able to cross the border, as long as they fly. “People are doing that. Yes. Not everyone has thousands of dollars to do this.” Teal explained.
Teal says there are many more stories about families separated all across the American Canadian border on the Facebook Group, “We’re not begging to go across. We are hurting. Ya know, the title of the Group says it all. Families are essential.”
Another gathering was planned for April 11. You can check out the Facebook Group for follow up
Pearce has applied for an exemption but has been denied three times with the explanation that, under the Mandatory Isolation Order, there are no exemptions for the quarantine requirement for the purpose of crossing the border to take care of family members. She said this issue is affecting blended families in border communities across the country and their voices are not being heard. The purpose of the gathering was to bring attention to this issue.
Photos provided by Wendy Teal