Cross-border couple who postponed wedding for 2 years reunites as Canada eases travel rules

At midnight Monday, Canada's border opened to fully vaccinated U.S. residents for the first time in a year and a half, and Michigan resident Gina Chirco was among the first in line to greet the "love of my life."

CBC News speaks with U.S. citizens entering Ontario who can now skip 14-day quarantine

Gina Chirco, who's from Michigan, headed to the U.S.-Ontario border near Sarnia at midnight Monday to be picked up by her Canadian partner, Tony Faneli. The couple is back together after Canada eased travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people entering from the U.S. (CBC News)

At midnight Monday, Canada's border opened to fully vaccinated U.S. residents for the first time in a year and a half, and Michigan resident Gina Chirco was among the first in line.

Chirco's fiancé, Tony Faneli, was waiting for her in Sarnia, Ont., for the landmark occasion. The two have postponed their much-anticipated wedding for nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and hadn't seen each other in person for much of that time.

"It's been a tough year and a half ...  I've found the love of my life and all of a sudden it was on hold because of the lockdown," said Chirco.

Chirco and Faneli have been together for three years and had picked out each other's wedding rings right before the pandemic began early in 2020. They say they've been waiting to get married until their families — extensive on both sides of the border — could be together for the event. 

But it's not just celebrations that have made the divide a difficult one. 

"Unfortunately I lost my mother in December, and it was a hard thing to go through without my partner by my side," Chirco said tearfully. 

"It really hurt not to be able to go across ... painful," said Faneli.

"Not being able to support the person that you're with — I hope I never have to go through that again. I hope that people can reunite."

To be eligible to cross into Canada, U.S. citizens must have received all required doses of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to entering Canada. Only U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in and travelling from the United States will be permitted entry. 

Although they get to skip quarantine, all fully vaccinated travellers entering Canada must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test, taken within 72 hours of arrival. Air passengers need to take the test within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of their final direct flight to Canada.

The loosened restrictions are a welcome sign, said Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon, founder of Faces of Advocacy. Poon's group has been outspoken on reunification issues for Canadians whose family members are out of the country. 

Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon, founder of Faces of Advocacy, said couples and those with family on both sides of the border are delighted to see restrictions loosen. (CBC News)

"This is the joy of waiting way too long for common-sense policies," said Poon, referring to the fact travellers from the U.S. who are fully vaccinated with the approved brands no longer have to quarantine. 

"There's a lot of nervous elation. People are looking at the long lines to Windsor and hoping when they make it, that the agent will let them in."

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said Monday the reopening was a long time coming for people with loved ones separated by the border. 

WATCH | Mayors of border towns weigh in on Day 1 of new travel rules: 

Fully vaccinated U.S. travellers arrive in Canada at land border

2 years ago
Duration 4:14
The mayors of Windsor, Ont., and Niagara Falls, Ont., welcomed the opening of land borders to fully-vaccinated travellers from the U.S. and the chance for loved ones to reunite. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"I have heard from thousands of people since the closure of the border over a year ago about how the border closure has impacted their lives, their families — simple things like the common everyday thing where you can't attend a funeral for a loved one." 

Dilkens pointed out that many people — including his own parents — have used loopholes to travel to the U.S. by flying from Windsor to Toronto and then to Detroit. The U.S. side of the Canada-U.S. land border remains closed to non-essential travellers until at least Aug. 21. However, Canadians have been able to fly to the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. 

He said his parents did that last summer to see one of the grandchildren get married. 

"Many people have done that over the course of the pandemic, and now they don't have to go through that aggravation," said Dilkens. 

Zaineb Alsalman travelled from Dearborn Heights, Mich., to Windsor on Monday to visit Canadian family she hasn't seen in person in nearly two years. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

CBC News spoke with a few U.S. citizens as they made their way into Canada at the Detroit-Windsor crossing. 

"The last time I was here was March 2020. Today I'm visiting some family I haven't seen in 16 months and I might be visiting some friends as well, just for the day," said Zaineb Alsalman of Dearborn Heights, Mich.. 

"It honestly means a lot. I have been waiting for this day for a very long time and it's very emotional."

Ashley Misuraca from Macombe, Mich., crossed over to Windsor to see her boyfriend. 

"I'm so excited finally to see him freely," she said, adding that getting over the border was fairly easy and straightforward.

It's not just couples and those with family who are happy to see U.S. citizens back in Canada. 

Lyz Meloche, general manager of Windsor's Duty Free Shop, said the store has been hard hit by the pandemic. 

"It has been extremely slow — customer traffic flow at our store is so low, the lowest it's ever been. Our revenues have declined by more than 95 per cent," she told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive.

"And we're one of the lucky stores that remained open throughout most of the pandemic. A lot of our 33 land border duty free stores have remained closed."

Ahead of the relaxed border restrictions Monday, Meloche said she expected a moderate uptick in business. 

"There's also a lot of confusion about the requirements — we think a lot of the travelers are going to be sent back and remember, the average cost for that PCR test for an uninsured American is around $140. We just can't imagine families spending hundreds of dollars just across the border for a day trip."