Southwestern Ontario border mayors, groups call for end to COVID-19 testing at land crossings

Mayors of southwestern Ontario border cities, along with a U.S. counterpart, and tourism groups are calling on Ottawa to end any COVID-19 testing at land border crossings. 

PCR tests to enter Canada no longer needed as of Feb. 28, but rapid antigen tests still required

Southwestern Ontario mayors, a U.S. counterpart and tourism groups are calling on the federal government to end COVID-19 testing requirements at land border crossings. While molecular tests are scrapped as of Feb. 28, travellers would still need to provide a rapid antigen test. (Rod Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

Mayors of southwestern Ontario border cities, along with a U.S. counterpart, and tourism groups are calling on Ottawa to end any COVID-19 testing at land border crossings.

Mayors of Windsor, Niagara Falls and Sarnia in Ontario and Niagara Falls, N.Y, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and the Hotel Association of Canada held a news conference Friday underlining the economic losses due to the border testing "barrier."

Last week, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced travellers entering Canada will no longer have to take a pre-arrival molecular test (such as a PCR) as of Feb. 28. Travellers are still required to take a pre-arrival test, but can opt for an authorized rapid antigen test (typically a cheaper option) that must be taken no more than one day before their scheduled arrival at the land border. 

"The practicality of the loosening of this restriction really means nothing to the average traveller," Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said during Friday's news conference.

"So I think what we need to do is trust Canadians to make smart decisions. We've asked people to get vaccinated, that is the high water mark here of the pandemic. But having a requirement for a test is really an optical illusion for safety. It really is providing no real protection."

Dilkens and his counterparts said the science doesn't support testing of this kind and it remains a barrier for those looking to cross land borders between the U.S. and Canada. 

Canada 'closed for business'

The tourism industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors amid the pandemic, said Beth Potter, president of the  Tourism Industry Association of Canada. 

A $105-billion-a-year industry has "basically been cut in half." 

"This is the planning cycle for the summer and we're hearing very much from our American counterparts that Canada is closed for business," said Potter. "We have a real challenge ahead of us to prove we're not only open for business, but removing those barriers so that we are open for business."

Many people are now booking summer vacations, and industry leaders are worried business owners will miss a third season. 

"Their businesses are hanging on by a thread and we're looking for predictability. If we miss this season, there is no industry standing on the other side of this," said Susie Grynol, president and chief executive officer of the Hotel Association of Canada.

Mayors of Niagara Falls, Ont. and Niagara Falls, N.Y. say their tourist towns have been devastated by border testing rules, which they say prevents many travellers from crossing. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Mayor Jim Diodati said about 40,000 people in Niagara Falls depend on the tourism industry "to feed their families."

"Travellers are a lot like water. They're going to take the path of least resistance and that may include bypassing Canada," he said. 

"The rules keep changing and it's a labyrinth … so people are just going to choose not to come. They hear about the horror stories at the border."

The mayors said navigating changing border rules is confusing and difficult for many people to understand.

"The United States has provided travel that sort of relies upon the vaccination status of visitors coming into our country. We think that makes sense," said Mayor Robert Restaino of Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Restaino said mayors and officials on both sides of the border have been leaders in their communities making sure COVID-19 vaccines are a top priority for their communities. Now, he said, it's time to relax the rules.

"Now that we've done our part, help us to sustain our economies, to do the things that help make our locations exciting for travellers."


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