This week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have resolved some of the concerns Canada Letter readers have raised in emails about the border closing with the United States. A tweak to its rules now means that married and common law couples who had found themselves unable to reunite if they weren’t both Canadian citizens can now do so.
The changes allow immediate family members who are not Canadian to enter Canada to join relatives. But they won’t be able to pop in for quick visits. Instead they must stay for a minimum of 15 days and quarantine for the first 14.
This is the first time since Canada became a nation that the entire border has been shut down by both countries, although there have been instances of specific crossings being closed. Even the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks didn’t close the border.
Still unclear, however, is an issue that many of you have raised: When will the border reopen?
The border closing has been extended several times since it took effect March 21 and is now set to expire, or get extended, on June 21.
The press secretary for Chrystia Freeland, who as deputy prime minister is in charge of all things between Canada and the United States, declined to tell me what would be announced about its future or even when an announcement would be made. But she did confirm that the two countries were discussing the issue.
The closing has reduced traffic by individuals between the two countries to a trickle. The number of Canadians returning to Canada from the United States last month was down 95 percent from a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada. Just 2,500 Americans arrived by car in Quebec during May, compared to 119,300 a year earlier.
Temporary foreign workers have been allowed in to work on farms. Several of those migrant workers became ill after arriving at Ontario farms, a situation that labor groups attribute to crowded dormitory housing and poor workplace virus protection. Two of them, both from Mexico, have died.
And, of course, anyone with Canadian citizenship cannot be turned away, although they must quarantine for 14 days on returning or face a potential 750,000 Canadian dollar penalty and six months in jail.
Beyond that, getting across the border involves convincing the Canada Border Service Agency that your trip is both “essential” and “non-discretionary and nonoptional.” The border agency defines that kind of travel largely by what it is not: “tourism, recreation or entertainment.”
So if you have a summer property up here or friends and distant relations you’d like to see in person, you’re out of luck until the closing is lifted.
A Canadian tourism industry related group has started a campaign to “re-open borders to safe countries” and to examine “the efficacy of restrictions on non-essential travel from the United States.” Premier Jason Kenney in Alberta asked Ottawa to ease the rules to allow the N.H.L. to use arenas in his province to create a playing hub for hockey.
But he and those calling for reopening do not reflect the general mood of the nation. The premiers of Ontario and British Columbia have not been enthusiastic about the idea.
Only 14 percent of Canadians want to see the border reopened by the end of July, while 51 percent said it should not be reopened until the end of the year, according to a survey released this week by Association for Canadian Studies’ Covid-19 Social Impacts Network, an academic research organization.
I sought an expert opinion from Gerald A. Evans, a professor of medicine at Queens University and the medical director for infection prevention and control at the health sciences center in Kingston, Ontario. He’s concerned that moving too quickly will lead to a rise in the rate of infections.
“This does have to be done with a great deal of care,” he said. Noting that Canada’s ability to track and trace sources of infection is inadequate, Dr. Evans added: “My worry is the ability that we have to carefully monitor it.”
“In many ways I think Canada has done a better job than the States, I’ll say that quite overtly,” he said. But the rising rate of infections in a number of states that have eased social distancing “portends badly for the possibility that of a reintroduction of virus into Canada,” he said.
More than 500 epidemiologists, including some in Canada, were surveyed by my colleagues Margot Sanger-Katz, Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui about when they expect to restart 20 daily activities in their own lives. When asked when they anticipate traveling by air again — the closest thing to a border question — their consensus was not until later in the next year.
[Read: When 511 Epidemiologists Expect to Fly, Hug and Do 18 Other Everyday Activities Again]
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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