Lack of plan for border reopening causes concern and consternation in the U.S.

Canada’s decision to keep the border with the United States closed to non-essential travel, while allowing fully vaccinated Canadians to avoid quarantine is unfair and is damaging relations with our closest neighbour, says a cross border business group.

On Monday, the federal government lifted its quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians, but did not open the U.S. border to non-essential travel.

Maryscott Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, called the announcement “unfair.”

“Governments say they will base their decisions on science, yet the government of Canada is not following what the science is saying, which is if you are fully vaccinated you are safe to travel, but the announcement today only applies to Canadians, so unless you are a fully vaccinated Canadian or an NHL hockey player, you are not allowed to travel into Canada and that, to us, defies logic and is anathema to what the U.S.-Canada relationship is all about,” said Greenwood.

Canada’s border was closed in March 2020 to non-Canadians, with limited exemptions for foreign nationals entering for essential purposes such as truck drivers or health-care workers. Canadians, permanent residents and people registered under the Indian Act, have always been allowed to return to Canada but were required to quarantine at home for two weeks. In February, air travellers were required to start spending up to three days at the start of that quarantine at a government-approved hotel, until a COVID-19 test came back negative.

Starting at 11:59 p.m. eastern time on July 5, both air and land travellers who are currently allowed to return to Canada, and who have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks, and show negative tests before and after arriving, won’t have to quarantine at all.

They must upload their pre-arrival test and vaccination status to the ArriveCAN app, and carry digital or paper proof of their vaccination status to show border agents.

Unvaccinated travellers will see no change to the re-entry rules. Most foreign nationals will also remain barred from entry to Canada entirely except for essential work purposes, to reunite with family, or receive medical treatment.

For now the new rules only recognize the four vaccines Canada has authorized, and will not apply to most foreign nationals. The federal government would not provide any specific metrics for when the border closure will lift for anyone else, though test results from vaccinated travellers returning will help guide decisions about when to nudge the border open even further.

The change in travel restrictions makes no difference to companies like Clipper Navigation and the Coho ferry, which have not been allowed to provide ferry service between Victoria and Washington State since March 2020.

The president and CEO of Clipper Navigation, Dave Gudgel said before the pandemic, the Clipper carried 265,000 passengers a year between Victoria and Seattle. Gudgel is frustrated that there seems to be no plan by the Canadian government on how to proceed.

“What we want even more than a reopening date now is the criteria for reopening. What is the plan? That is the most difficult thing because it really ties your hands into this 30-day cycle and if we could be given the metrics and extrapolate estimated and estimated reopening ourselves, then we could do our own planning, but it really leaves your hands tied when there is no goal,” said Gudgel.

The president of Blackball Transportation, which operated the COHO ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles is concerned about whether, and what kind, of proof of vaccination will be required by Canada. The U.S. has said it will not require proof of vaccination to enter.

Ryan Burles said the lack of planning for vaccine requirements will likely hurt businesses, even after the border fully reopens.

“During 9/11, because passports were newly required, we lost about 30 per cent of our business because people were unaware or unprepared for that requirement. So we are a little concerned that this proof of vaccine plan will take a chunk of people who will not have received a vaccine or may not have the proper paperwork to prove it. They’re saying they will bring forward a plan but there is frustration about where are we at with that plan,” said Burles.

Having different requirements for land, air and sea travel to Canada leads organizations like the Canadian American Business Council to wonder whether the federal government has thought about the long term effect on the economy.

“What is challenging is when the government says ‘we’re going to treat the air environment differently and the land environment differently and the marine environment differently.’ It creates uncertainty and as the economy is opening back up and people are being vaccinated, it’s time to recognize the reality of that and update and align the policies,” said Greenwood.

“Apparently they aren’t worried what happens to border communities, the tourism sector and the broader economy. I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

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