Margaret Kirsebom’s family held an international birthday party Sept. 24 at Peace Arch Park, when the White Rock senior’s grandson, Sean, (foreground) drove up from California to help her celebrate turning 89. The family wasn’t aware they would be asked to produce their passports if they crossed into the park on the U.S. side, so they instead visited across the ditch that marks the international boundary. (Contributed photo)

Margaret Kirsebom’s family held an international birthday party Sept. 24 at Peace Arch Park, when the White Rock senior’s grandson, Sean, (foreground) drove up from California to help her celebrate turning 89. The family wasn’t aware they would be asked to produce their passports if they crossed into the park on the U.S. side, so they instead visited across the ditch that marks the international boundary. (Contributed photo)

Passport check at U.S. side of Peace Arch Park turns birthday into international celebration

People without documents now being told to visit Douglas Port of Entry for CBSA screening

A White Rock grandmother’s surprise birthday celebration turned into an international affair last week after she and her family learned that, as Canadians entering the U.S. side of Peace Arch Park, they would have to show their passports before they could return home.

Margaret Kirsebom said she was surprised to learn about the rule last Friday, when she celebrated her 89th birthday.

Kirsebom’s family took her to the park on Sept. 24 for a surprise visit from her grandson, Sean, who drove to the border from the San Francisco area where he attends school. None of them brought their documents, she said, because they weren’t aware they would be required.

The park, located at 0 Avenue near 172 Street, has been one of the only places in the country where Canadians and Americans can meet and mingle freely since the land border closed early last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Up until recently, Canadians were largely able to access the park and return to Canada without showing a passport or speaking to authorities.

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Instead of having the picnic they planned, without their passports, Kirsebom, her family, and her grandson were only able to visit across the ditch that follows the international boundary along 0 Avenue.

Still, Kirsebom said, she was thrilled just to have an opportunity to see Sean for the first time in more than a year.

“Most wonderful birthday present ever,” the senior said, despite the fact that no hugs were allowed.

“Sean came walking across the park from the U.S. side, what a fantastic birthday gift. I couldn’t believe it.”

“I am truly blessed.”

B.C. RCMP E Division Sgt. Kris Clark said the practice of police checking passports of Canadians returning from the park “isn’t entirely new.”

“It is recommended that anyone visiting the park can confirm their identity with a passport or nexus card,” Clark wrote to Peace Arch News, in response to a request for clarification about the rules as they relate to the park.

“As the Canadian side of the park is currently closed, anyone visiting the park can only visit the US side and is therefor leaving Canada, however briefly.”

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Clark said that if a visitor cannot provide a passport upon their return, they will be directed to the Douglas Port of Entry (Peace Arch) where Canada Border Services Agency will confirm their identity.

“The process is necessary to prevent illegal entry into Canada and to ensure that only Canadian visitors to the park are returning northbound. Once the Canadian side reopens, it would still be a good practice for visitors entering the US side to bring their passport as they are technically leaving Canada,” Clark wrote.

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