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Canadian snowbird 'devastated' to be turned away at bridge

Thursday, April 16th 2020, 1:53 pm - 'Sometimes you have to make tough decisions' says transportation minister

A Canadian snowbird who just drove from Florida to Prince Edward Island says he is now driving to Ontario to quarantine with relatives after being turned away by officials at the Confederation Bridge because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Barry Humberstone has owned a home in Northport, P.E.I., for less than a year, after moving there from Georgetown, Ont., but has spent the last six months in Florida with his American girlfriend, Michelle Williamson.

Humberstone, 60, said he was denied entry to the Island on Tuesday — twice, in fact, because he turned around in New Brunswick and tried again — because his driver's licence, car registration and health card are still from Ontario — things he admits he should have changed sooner.

"They seen the Ontario plates, I have Ontario plates on my car and an Ontario licence, and they started asking a bunch of questions and I said 'this is my principal residence' and they said 'you can't prove that.'"

CBC: Canadian snowbird denied entry into Canada Barry Humberstone has spent the last six months in Florida with his American girlfriend, Michelle Williamson. (Submitted by Michelle Williamson via CBC)

Humberstone said he has a truck at his P.E.I. home that is registered on P.E.I. He showed officials that, as well as the taxes he paid last year on his P.E.I. property, he said.

He said he was told the documents were not proof he lives on P.E.I. full-time.

"I'm a snowbird, I should be treated like a snowbird not like a cottager. They're penalizing me because I live in Florida six months? And that doesn't make me a full-time resident in P.E.I.? Of course it does! That's my home!" Humberstone said in a conversation with CBC News from his car.

CBC: Anyone coming onto P.E.I. from the Confederation Bridge must stop at a COVID-19 checkpoint, where officials ask if they have a self-isolation plan and gather contact information. (Brian McInnis/CBC) Anyone coming onto P.E.I. from the Confederation Bridge must stop at a COVID-19 checkpoint, where officials ask if they have a self-isolation plan and gather contact information. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

He said officials argued that his residence was a cottage, not a house.

"Well, it's not a cottage for me — that's my principal residence," he said.


Go here for our complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic


'WHERE AM I GOING TO GO?'

Checkpoints were put in place at Confederation Bridge and the Charlottetown airport on April 1. Travellers are being asked about their reasons for coming to P.E.I., and those not on the list of essential travellers are turned around. Residents are allowed to return to their homes but the province has been discouraging cottagers from coming to their summer homes.

Humberstone said his mother was from P.E.I. and he has family here. When reached at her home in Alberton, his cousin Debbie Murphy confirmed she had prepared Humberstone's home with supplies for a two-week self-isolation period. She also vouched for his status as a permanent resident.

"I feel really bad for him," Murphy said. "He should have been allowed in."

Humberstone said he sold his home in Ontario two years ago and describes himself as a semi-retired home builder. He said he slept in his car Monday night.

"I was devastated, where am I going to go? That's what I said to them, 'Where do I go? I have nowhere to go,'" he said.

Humberstone said he and his girlfriend, who remains in Port St. Lucie, Fla., have contacted provincial officials and were told someone would check into his situation, but have yet to get a reply.

'VERY CONFIDENT IN THE PLAN'

Transportation Minister Steven Myers said late Tuesday he doesn't know the specifics of Humberstone's case, but has faith that officials at the bridge checkpoint acted properly.

"They have to make a decision very quickly because the car comes, it's right there," Myers said. "We've been asking officers to err on the side of caution ... we're very confident in the plan we are executing at entry points."

Myers said Humberstone can email P.E.I.'s highway safety division of the Transportation Department to help him meet requirements. Those who are approved can use the email as "a quick way in," when they reach P.E.I.'s checkpoint, Myers said.

Those requirements are to have a self-isolation plan, supports in place such as people to help you, contact information, and proof of somewhere to stay during your self-isolation period, Myers said.

"It goes against our very nature as Islanders not to be welcoming ... but sometimes you have to make tough decisions," Myers said. "These are different times that we're in and we're trying to do our very best to keep Islanders healthy and safe."

So far 36 people have been turned away, he said.

Humberstone said he will email the province and head back to P.E.I. as soon as he is permitted.

This article, written by Sara Fraser , was originally published for CBC News.

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