Quebec families, business owners eagerly await U.S. border's reopening

While the rules have scaled back some since July 5, Canadians aren’t allowed to cross by land into the U.S. for non-essential reasons and, aside from essential travel, only immediate family members may drive into Canada, under certain conditions.

Trudeau says fully vaccinated Americans may be allowed to visit Canada starting mid-August

Lisa Mara Padilha was used to seeing her husband in New York every weekend. Since March 2020, she has only seen him a few times because of travel restrictions. (CBC)

Lisa Mara Padilha will be celebrating a decade of marriage in November but the pandemic has put a strain on her relationship.

Yet that strain is not from too much time cooped up in the same house like most Canadian families. It's from being kept apart.

Padilha's husband, Andrew Chary, lives just outside of Lake Placid, N.Y. 

That's only about two and a half hours away by car but with the U.S. border closed to non-essential travellers and Canada only recently allowing immediate family to visit, they haven't seen much of each other.

They went from spending their weekends together, to hardly seeing one another. At one point, they went more than 100 days apart.

Chary has more recently been allowed to drive up, but forced to quarantine for two weeks when he visits despite having had two doses of the vaccine. Padilha could fly down, but driving there is not allowed unless you're a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

"It has been a big stress for our relationship to be this way because I cannot go and when he comes he has to quarantine even though he's fully vaccinated," she said.

"Our relationship is solid, and it hasn't affected that. But it's not the same. We cannot see each other."

Rules were scaled back some on  July 5, allowing fully vaccinated people to skip the quarantine as long as they test negative for COVID-19 before driving up.

Sad stories of families apart

Toronto-based Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon is the founder of the Faces of Advocacy, a group that works to reunite loved ones who have been separated by the pandemic border closures.

Poon says the stories he's been hearing are heartbreaking.

"You hear miscarriages held alone. You hear about goodbyes said through Facetime. You hear loneliness and deterioration of mental health of people who just want to be together," he said.

Marriages between Americans and Canadians are common all along the border, and pandemic travel restrictions have been keeping families apart. (Wilson Ring/AP Photo)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quietly indicated late Thursday that the border might reopen for fully vaccinated Americans in mid-August.

And if the current vaccination rate remains on its upward trajectory, fully vaccinated travellers from around the world could begin arriving by early September, Trudeau said during a COVID-19 status update with Canada's premiers.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel since  March 2020. 

The federal government is under increasing pressure to ease restrictions not just for families to be reunited, but for the sake of the economy as well.

Business owners wait for American customers

Olivier Dostaler's Old Port boutique in Montreal would normally be packed with tourists from around the world this time of year, but instead "it's been very quiet," he said.

"It's not like in 2019 when you had international tourists from the States, from everywhere," said Dostaler, who is eagerly awaiting the U.S. border to reopen.

"Hopefully they arrive before the season ends."

Quebec Premier François Legault supports opening the border to Americans before welcoming travellers from other countries, but it is important to him that people provide proof of vaccination.

"There's an important condition for us in Quebec, it's to have what we call a vaccine proof or a vaccine passport," he said.

Tourist shops in Montreal's Old Port are among countless businesses in Quebec that have suffered from the lack of American travellers since March 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Canadian travellers have been increasingly headed abroad where there are no such restrictions, according to Philippe Rainville, head of Montreal airport. 

Michel Leblanc, head of the Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain, says it makes no sense that Canadians with two doses of the vaccine are able to visit France, but French tourists with both shots are not able to come here.

He says Americans who want to cross at a land border crossing should be allowed to and that tourism is essential to Montreal's economy.

"We were hoping to get some of these Americans, great clients, in July and August and September," said Leblanc, who is also worried about the international conferences scheduled for early 2022.

Still, Trudeau remains hesitant.

"We know how unbelievably costly and heartbreaking it would be to fall into a fourth wave of this pandemic. We are going to make sure that we don't do that," he said.

with files from Chloë Ranaldi and Lauren McCallum


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