DERBY LINE/STANSTEAD - Criminal activity has increased on Church Street, an open road that connects Derby Line, VT and Stanstead, Quebec. According to Canadian authorities, there is an increase in illegal entry into Canada.
Now the international border on Church Street is lined with large flower pots, a temporary solution to a growing problem.
July 19, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), announced a joint agreement with Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET), local elected officials, and others to close the street. Derby Line Trustees were notified and discussed it at a recent meeting.
On July 20, the flower pots were placed on the border “as a new security measure designed to reduce criminal activity,” according to a statement from the RCMP.
Tourists are inadvertently crossing the border into Canada on Church Street, which is illegal, and many are entering based on directions from their global positions systems (GPS).
The Haskell Opera House and Library, which straddles the border and serves both communities, sits on Church Street. In 2009 Ball, (Phelps) and Lee (Pelow) Streets were closed with gates to stop illegal crossing, but many residents did not want a barricade on Church Street because of the library and so it was left open.
Now the street is closed, but in a way that preserves the unique character of the town, explained Stanstead Mayor Philippe Dutil. Dutil said that the flower pots are temporary and a committee will form in the fall to discuss a more permanent solution. Dutil says the barricade will not be a gate, but something like park benches and maybe a parking lot that will utilize Cordeau Street.
Cordeau Street, also known as “Cat Alley,” is blocked off and can no longer be used by those entering Canada, which was not legal in the first place, Dutil said. Vehicles heading north will now have to go to Main Street in Derby Line and find a place to turn around before heading into Canada.
Traffic build ups are occurring often, leading to agitated travelers who are honking their horns and sometimes getting close to fist fights, Dutil said. Some motorists are using Cordeau as a way to avoid the traffic, which is leading to more conflict.
Besides confused tourists, Canadian authorities are seeing an increase in illegal immigrant entry and human smuggling operations.
The increase in illegal immigrants using Church Street "raises sufficient concerns to warrant closing the street at the Canada/U.S. border," André Lirette with IBET said in an interview Monday.
“The joint efforts of various Canadian and American partners will contribute to maintaining border integrity, reducing criminal activities and eliminating the criminal element from the region, resulting in improved safety for Stanstead (QC) and Derby Line (VT) citizens,” the press release from RCMP states.
Even though the closure of unguarded roads is expected to reduce illegal cross border activity considerably, law enforcement authorities still encourage local residents to keep a close watch on any suspicious incident and to call 1-800-771-5401 or local police to report any information.