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Pandemic rules keeping terminally ill man from seeing family

Published in CBC News September 7, 2020, written by Yasmine Mehdi

Philippe Bélanger, a married father of two in Gatineau, Que., who’s been diagnosed with a terminal disease, has only been able to see his father once during the COVID-19 pandemic because of restrictions at the New Brunswick border. (Félix Desroches/Radio-Canada)

Philippe Bélanger’s New Brunswick family can’t realistically visit often


After speaking to Radio-Canada, Bertrand Bélanger received a job offer in the Gatineau area.

A Gatineau, Que., man with Lou Gehrig’s disease says he’s barely able to see his family in New Brunswick because of COVID-19 restrictions at the provincial border.

Philippe Bélanger was diagnosed in June 2019 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a terminal disease that affects communication between the brain and muscles and which, according to the ALS Society of Canada, usually results in death two to five years after a diagnosis.

Before the pandemic, his father, Bertrand, would visit him every month.

Since the pandemic, he’s only been able to visit once, in June. That’s because of restrictions that include those in place at the New Brunswick-Quebec border, which require most people visiting or returning to New Brunswick to self-isolate for up to 14 days.

Bertrand Bélanger says he’s tried and failed to get an exception. His son says it’s not realistic for his father — a practising physiotherapist — to visit, return to New Brunswick, and then stay home from his job for two weeks.

“Time is running out … We don’t know when that will be, and that’s the reality of this disease,” Bertrand Bélanger said through tears in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada.

Bertrand Bélanger, left, and his son Philippe Bélanger. (Supplied by Bertrand Bélanger)

New Brunswick is part of the Atlantic bubble, which was set up in early July because of the progress made in cutting back the spread of the coronavirus in those four provinces — a different dynamic than in Quebec and provinces further west.

Different provinces in the bubble have different travel rules.

Currently, New Brunswick residents can travel into two Quebec border communities and return without having to self-isolate — but that privilege doesn’t extend to people travelling further west, unless they have exemptions.

Father doesn’t qualify

In an email, the New Brunswick Department of Health said the older Bélanger doesn’t qualify for an exemption because he’s leaving the province for personal reasons, not work.

Bélanger says that’s wrong, as he gives his son exercises that help him do more tasks on his own.

The province also said that humanitarian exemptions are given for people living outside New Brunswick to come into the province to provide care not otherwise available, or for someone that’s either at the end of their life.

Philippe Bélanger said he doesn’t think that the province’s policy is right.

“It hurts me a lot to not have access to my parents,” he said.

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