Créons des Ponts – Bridges not Borders

Créons des Ponts – Bridges not Borders : A local group that has come to be known internationally (December 2019)

Local involvement with refugees crossing into Canada via Roxham Road started with a town hall information meeting in March 2017. When numbers increased, the United Church organized volunteers to serve breakfast to asylum seekers on the weekends at the Lacolle CBSA until the Red Cross took over.

After the first anti-refugee demonstration on Roxham Road in July 2017, there was a feeling that we needed to provide information to our local community about why refugees were crossing there. Sue Heller gave us a free table at the Woolgathering and lent us a wood cut by Don McEwen that said ‘Bridges not Borders’. We showed up with information sheets and ‘Refugees Welcome’ buttons, ready to talk to people. From then on, we met more regularly, more people got involved, and our activities started to flourish.

We also had to become clear about who we were and what our group does: We are a group of citizens in and around Hemmingford who are dedicated to the welfare of refugees who cross the border near our homes. We believe that borders should be bridges for those in need of safety and protection, rather than barriers that exclude them. The group has three kinds of activities: support of refugees, lobbying, and sharing information about refugee issues (which we have also done in this bulletin).

Our support of refugees currently takes the form of weekly visits to the US side of Roxham Road to be a friendly and welcoming presence for refugees before they cross. In winter, we give out hats, scarves and mittens, in the summer we offer water. For a short time in 2017, we even managed to put up a welcome sign at the border (see photo)! We added a page to our website with useful information for refugees, and we respond to e-mail inquiries about seeking asylum in Canada. We also liaise with the RCMP public relations officer to help ensure a humane and professional behavior in RCMP officers stationed there. A lighter and more enjoyable activity is the ‘picnic in the country’ that we organized the last two summers for refugee families who had settled in the Montreal area.

As for lobbying, we have good connections with the local MPs and MNAs, we provide information for them about refugee issues, and we continue to advocate for the ending of the Safe Third Country Agreement (which is the reason why refugees cross at Roxham Road).

What has become a major part of our work is the information sharing. Initially, our intention was to provide information in our local communities. Very soon, however, we were contacted by both national and international media who were looking to interview local people about Roxham Road. Because of our experience of going to the border and observing what happens there, it turns out we have a unique perspective to contribute that is sought out again and again! We also realize that providing accurate information is increasingly important as there is so much false information circulating on social media (see the ‘Refugees: myths and facts’ page on our website).

Lastly, our activities have come to include a peaceful and informative response to the repeated anti-refugee demonstrations that have bussed people from all over the province and even from Ontario into our area. We created our own posters, gave press conferences and were there as a truly local presence in what has come to be a very contentious issue. We feel that Canada is prosperous enough to provide a safe new home to many more refugees.