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Gregg Keating and Ginger Keating, seen here in a photo from July 7, 2016, have been separated since Canada and the U.S. closed their borders to non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mic Smith/The Associated Press

The closing of the world’s longest undefended border between Canada and the United States has left many couples and family members longing to be reunited.

Decades of free movement between both countries have helped relationships flourish across international boundaries. The decision to close the border between Canada and the U.S. to non-essential travel as a result of the pandemic in March has forced married and engaged couples to spend months apart, and has separated parents from their children.

Gregg Keating, 56, is a Canadian who divides his time between the two countries. He and his American wife, Ginger, live in South Carolina, he said, but he also owns a home and businesses in Canada. He said he drove to their home in Nova Scotia to check on his companies at the end of January, and that the closed border has prevented him from returning.

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“My wife is in Charleston, South Carolina, and she’s going to be 50 on Monday. … I sent her 50 roses, one for every year she’s been alive,” he said, adding it’s “terrible” they can’t reunite. “I just miss her touch and I miss kissing her on her cheek. … I’m a broken man. I love my wife and we’re stuck.”

Jacqueline Callin, a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency, said that to enter Canada, a foreign national spouse, or an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, must show that their travel is essential. If the travel is considered essential, she said in a statement, they will need to prove they have suitable quarantine accommodation and that they plan to have basic necessities delivered to them.

“If travel of the immediate family member/spouse is deemed non-essential they will not be allowed to enter Canada,” she said.

Canadians and Americans on both sides of the border are feeling the impact on their relationships. Before the pandemic halted non-essential travel, Wendy Spalla, 53, drove 20 minutes from her home in Buffalo to her fiancé’s home in Niagara Falls and visited her son in St. Catharines regularly.

“It’s just very frustrating and, I mean, this is where you take things for granted … it’s only 20 minutes away and now it just seems further away,” Ms. Spalla said.

Wendy Spalla who lives in Buffalo, N.Y. has been unable to cross the border into Canada to visit her fiance, Jason Lacombe, pictured here, in Niagara Falls, Ont. and her son who lives in St. Catharines, Ont.


Ms. Spalla said she called a customs officer to inquire about whether she could travel to Canada. She said when she told the agent that her son was not dependent on her, the agent determined it was not essential for her to travel.

Similarly, Mark Piniarski, 54, lives in a suburb of Buffalo and was supposed to marry his fiancé, who lives in Toronto, at City Hall this month. “We’re just in limbo,” he said.

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Mr. Piniarski said before the pandemic they saw each other every other weekend and vacationed together. He added it is difficult to describe the challenge of being apart.

“Being separated from your loved one for any period of time … and so sudden … it’s tough but, I mean, thank goodness we have video chat,” he said.

It was particularly difficult when his fiancé’s mom passed away. Mr. Piniarski said he spoke with a Canadian customs officer who had been “very understanding and sympathetic,” but still, he did not qualify. He said he is hoping the countries agree to allow travel to resume, with the understanding that people would be required to quarantine for two weeks after they cross.

Betsy Kane, an immigration lawyer and founding partner of Capelle Kane Immigration Lawyers, said she has been able to help Canadian citizens and their foreign partners through the Canada-U.S. border.

“The two land border cases were initially declined on the basis of the Canada-U.S. joint initiative … but by packaging their materials and showing the history of the relationship and the ties to Canada, if you will, we were able to have those decisions overturned with good common sense [by] CBSA officers who are looking at the compassionate situation,” she said, adding it’s also necessary the individuals fall within the parameters of the laws governing the situation.

Ms. Kane said she is aware of people who have been refused entry at the U.S.-Canada border who meet the threshold, saying that “it’s not an easy situation.”

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