Nurses working both sides of the border speak for themselves

In this situation nurses are giving expression to the notion that we are one humanity fighting for the rights of all, in this case the right to health care. #Windsor


There has been a lot of talk between the leaders of Canada and the United States over the movement of goods and people in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump has withheld medical supplies and Trudeau and other elected leaders in Canada have openly or indirectly threatened to limit the travel of Canadian health care workers currently working in U.S. border towns. The issue is presented as a fight between “Making America great again” and standing up for Canada. As one nurse living in Windsor and working in Michigan put it when she was interviewed on CBC radio, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”[1]

Nurse Nikki Hillis-Walters has been working in hospitals in Windsor, Ontario and Detroit Michigan. She was told that she had to choose where to work as the Ontario hospitals don’t want COVID-19 being brought across the border into Ontario hospitals. The matter is presented as protecting Canada. However, many health care workers from Canada work in the U.S. due to the lack of work and investment in health care in Canada. In this case Hillis-Walters decided to give up her job in Windsor, as she knew it could be filled, and work in Detroit where the need was the greatest. Asked why she made this choice she said “It’s the nursy feeling that you kind of need to go to that call to action.” Later she added, “I think we all have to think of ourselves as kind of global citizens right now. Not necessarily like I’m Canadian, you’re American.” She also discussed the support she is receiving from the community in Detroit for her contributions.

In this situation nurses are giving expression to the notion that we are one humanity fighting for the rights of all, in this case the right to health care. Governments in Windsor and other border towns cannot manage this crisis and slow the spread without ensuring that health care workers’ rights are affirmed irrespective of where they work. Those working in the U.S. require security and protection so that they can make their contribution and not worry about making the situation worse by bringing the virus back to their families and communities. They are not vectors, they are human beings with rights.

This means first and foremost that health care workers’ well-being must be looked after. They require lodging and food so that they do not have to go out into the community after working in infected environments. They require proper equipment and protections and a say over their wages and working conditions so they can do their job to the best of their ability. In many U.S. border states nurses and other health care workers are not unionized and are vulnerable to being discarded when they become ill or injured or if they speak out. The Canadian government must advocate for these health care workers instead of using the vital service they provide as a bargaining chip.


1. “Forced to pick a side, this Canadian nurse decided to fight COVID-19 in the U.S.,” As It Happens, April 8, 2020  


This article was published in Workers’ Forum, Number 20 – April 14, 2020

Article Link:
What Healthcare Professionals Have to Say: Nurses Working Both Sides of the Border Speak for Themselves – Enver Villamizar

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