DETROIT – John Adams considers himself a soldier who likes to pick fights with politicians.
Adams is a boisterous 70-year-old retired magazine publisher who lives most of the year in Florida when he’s not at his rural paradise — property he owns on Vancouver Island.
Until last year, Adams was just an average fella. But then he took on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with a TV spot repeatedly demanding DeSantis lift a ban on Florida vacation rentals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adams, who owned three Florida rentals that were losing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue because of the ban, believes he won when DeSantis lifted the ban soon after the ads started to air. So now he is taking aim at bigger targets: President Joe Biden and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Adams wants Biden and Trudeau to loosen the border restrictions between the U.S. and Canada to allow for vaccinated, separated families; property owners like himself; and vital business stakeholders to enter Canada no later than June 21, earlier if vaccination rates improve.
Adams’ weapon of choice is a self-scripted, but professionally produced, 30-second TV spot that he is airing in Buffalo, New York, northwest Washington state and in metro Detroit. It’s similar to the one he ran against DeSantis’ ban on vacation rentals.
“The purpose of my ad is to get a phone call that says, ‘Prime Minister Trudeau doesn’t like these ads.'” Adams said. “I’m not saying they need to open the border tomorrow, but I need a plan. I want to plan my summer. Some people want to plan their wedding and some people need to prepare that they may not see their 92-year-old relative across the border again.”
‘Power of the people’
The TV ad plays on the relatable emotions of job loss; the frustration of property owners not permitted to visit their property in Canada; and the heartache of being separated from loved ones because the border has remained closed to most nonessential travel since March 2020.
“Stop hurting our economy and costing us jobs. Open the border now,” a male narrator delivers in a stern baritone at the end of the spot.
Canada’s health officials and government leaders have been reviewing the pandemic conditions each month before deciding to extend the closure. On May 21, Canada extended it another 30 days, to June 21.
James Cudmore, a spokesman for Bill Blair, Canada’s minister of public service and emergency preparedness, said the Canadian government was not aware of Adams’ ads. Canada’s decision on “when and how to reopen the border will be made in Canada, with the best interest of Canadians as our top priority,” Cudmore told the Free Press, which like USA TODAY is a part of the USA TODAY Network.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. But Adams is undeterred.
“I’m fighting back,” Adams said. “Now I’ve got the power of the people.”
Here are the current rules to cross the border:
- Canadians are allowed to travel to the U.S. by air, but Americans are not allowed to travel to Canada unless they qualify as family or extended family.
- If an American does qualify for family or extended family, they can fly or drive into Canada. But Canada requires a negative COVID-19 test and a 14-day quarantine, among other restrictions.
- The U.S. requires a negative COVID-19 test no more than three days before traveling to the U.S. by air.
- U.S. citizens who own property in Canada are not allowed entry to Canada to visit their property.
That last restriction is what hits Adams and his wife of nearly 50 years, Martha, hardest. The two own expansive property on Vancouver Island they call “Latitude 49” because it’s near the 49th Parallel, which forms most of the border between the U.S. and Canada. Adams, who published Alaska magazine, among others during his career, bought the property in 2015.
In his TV spot, an aerial photo shows his home with a giant, red “Access Denied” stamped over it.
The taxes he pays on his property are cheap, about $2,000 a year. A friend has been watching the home for Adams since he and Martha were last there in September 2019. So his motivation for the ads isn’t financial; it’s sheer frustration that every month Canada extends the border closure another 30 days.
“I finally had enough,” Adams said. “They kicked the can down the road so much and I walked up to it and I stepped on that can.”
Adams has experience fighting city hall. In March 2020, DeSantis closed Florida’s 250,000 vacation rentals due to the pandemic. Adams started running a 30-second TV ad citing job loss and financial ruin as the result of the ban on rentals.
“I ran that ad every hour on Fox and CNN,” Adams said, noting it cost him about $750 to produce the ad and $1,800 to air it in total. “My rep from Comcast called and said, “ ‘We are getting a lot of heat from the governor’s office.'”
About a week later, DeSantis lifted the ban on vacation rentals; Adams believes his ads played a role in it. DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
There’s also an emotional element to Adams’ current campaign: He recognizes his age may limit his time to enjoy the rural retreat where he and Martha would spend close to six months each year, fishing and watching bald eagles soar and black bears hunt.
“You’d have to calculate how much is the value of a year at my age. I would monetize it with the word, ‘priceless,’” Adams said.
Then there are the touching stories of separation from loved ones Adams has heard from others that motivate him most of all.
One of those people is Patricia Kaiser, 45, of Dearborn, Michigan. Kaiser and Adams met recently after she scraped up $25 to donate to his GoFundMe page to support airing the ad.
“I want to donate more, but I didn’t do any work for the last year, so donating $25 is a big deal,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser owns Expert Vehicle Solutions in Walled Lake, a western suburb of Detroit. It supplies vehicles for major auto events or for car companies to test. The pandemic slowed demand for her company’s services, but she managed to keep her four full-time staffers employed. To her relief, she recently landed a new project with Porsche, she said.
But her fiancé, Tom, who lives in Toronto, has not been as fortunate. Tom asked that Kaiser not reveal his last name or the name of his company for privacy. The auto event company he started 24 years ago in Toronto is going out of business because of Canada’s shutdown, drying up any auto events there, Kaiser said.
“This border closing has hit us on so many levels,” Kaiser said. “It’s destroying our businesses, it’s destroying our home, it’s destroying our future. Every dollar you spend is a dollar out of the future and you don’t know what the future is. Can we plan a wedding? Good God, no!”
Since getting engaged in January 2020, Tom’s father died and Kaiser could not get into the country to attend the funeral with him.
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They have seen each other twice, and both times required an elaborate process. Kaiser took a COVID-19 test, Tom signed an affidavit swearing they have been in a relationship longer than a year and provided proof of it to qualify for Canada’s extended family exemption. After Canadian government officials approved Kaiser to visit, she then had to spend $2,000 to stay 14 days in quarantine at an Airbnb in Toronto, she said.
That quarantine requirement makes it impossible for Tom to visit Kaiser in Dearborn because he’d have to do it on his return to Canada and he is a single father, so could not be apart from his kids that long.
But Kaiser, who is fully vaccinated, said she is willing to show her vaccination card at the border if she could get into Canada without the long and pricey quarantine.
So she is supporting Adams’ ads, counting on public pressure to break down the border.
“I cry every day,” Kaiser said. “Our life is damaged beyond repair. The hopes and dreams we had when we got engaged in 2020, they’re shattered.”
Pit bull growl
Adams started running the spot on May 13 in Buffalo, New York, on Fox, CNN and Spectrum News. He ran six ads until May 17, paying about $300 to produce it and $2,700 in total to air it.
Since that time, he has started the GoFundMe page to help him buy more ads in other areas near Canada, such as northwest Washington state and Detroit. He had raised $5,082 in donations as of Friday evening. His goal is $15,000.
Adams continues to run the ad in Buffalo, where he has also started an online ad campaign. He has also bought 72 time slots to run the ad for five days in Washington state on Fox, CNN, Headline News and MSNBC.
On Wednesday, Adams received a $1,000 donation. He used it to fund a TV and digital ad campaign in metro Detroit. Adams ran 21 ads from May 22-24 on Fox and CNN. The online campaign ran concurrently.
Adams won’t run the ads in Washington, D.C. It is too expensive. Besides, he said, “It’s more important to me to have somebody call Biden and say, ‘Do you know about these ads?’ My ads are like a pit bull, I want them to hear the growl, but not see the teeth.”
Border remains closed
It has been widely reported that Trudeau and his government have been in early talks about loosening border restrictions even though Canada remains behind the U.S. vaccination rate.
Trudeau’s administration has discussed the idea of not requiring quarantine and testing for fully vaccinated visitors, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed sources. According to the Government of Canada’s health website, 3.99% of Canadian residents are fully vaccinated, compared with 38.1% in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control website, as of May 20.
On May 18, The Canadian Press reported that Trudeau said 75% of Canadians will have to be vaccinated before he will open the border.
Cudmore said he cannot confirm the reports of any preliminary talks of opening the border, but he said every month the government consults with public health officials to review the restrictions to keep Canadians safe.
“Minister Blair is in regular contact with his American counterparts about issues relating to our shared border,” Cudmore said. “Until the conditions on both sides of the border change very substantively, the measures at our borders will remain intact.”
Trudeau has said Canada is open to vaccine passports. Those would be electronic documents that allow border patrol to verify whether a traveler has been inoculated. Biden has ruled out that option.
Adams does not favor such “electronic passports” either. Adams said safety is paramount; he’s seen friends die of COVID-19, “but people have to have their lives back because that’s killing people too,” he said.
Adams favors showing a CDC card at the border as proof of inoculation.
And, he said, “If you cannot prove you’ve been inoculated, ‘Sorry Charlie, go home.’”
Follow Jamie L. LaReau on Twitter @jlareauan.