Politics

Preliminary talks on lifting Canada-U.S. border restrictions underway

Preliminary talks on lifting restrictions along the Canada-U.S. border are underway, says a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Hopeful for 'positive news as summer progresses,’ source says

The Blue Water Bridge crossing between Ontario and Michigan is one of 117 points of entry along the Canada-U.S. land border that could see restrictions loosened by summer. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

Preliminary talks on lifting restrictions along the Canada-U.S. border are underway, according to an official with direct knowledge of the file.

CBC News has confirmed that initial conversations between Canada and the United States are taking place at the officials level, meaning the politicians who ultimately will make the decision are not directly involved in those talks yet.

The official said no decisions are expected in the short term but that there is hope for "positive news as summer progresses," especially in light of the increase in vaccination rates in Canada.

The official also cautioned that crushing the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic remains the priority at the moment.

CBC News is not naming the official because the individual is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Bloomberg News was first to report this development on Friday.

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair noted that talks between officials about the border happen regularly and cautioned that the current measures could stay in place for some time.

"We brought forward significant restrictions at our borders over a year ago to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada," said James Cudmore, director of communications for the minister.

"Every month, the federal government consults with public health officials to understand which modifications are required to the existing measures at our borders to keep our communities safe from COVID-19. Alongside our American and international counterparts, we have extended the current measures until May 21, 2021, and they could be extended again," Cudmore said.

"Minister Blair is in regular contact with his American counterparts about issues relating to our shared border. Until the conditions on both sides of the border change very substantively, the measures at our borders will remain intact. The decision on when and how to reopen the border will be made in Canada, with the best interest of Canadians as our top priority."

The border has been closed to non-essential travel for purposes such as tourism and recreation since March 2020. The closure agreement between Ottawa and Washington is expected to be renewed on May 21.

The agreement permits entry to individuals for compassionate purposes, such as attending a funeral or applying for refugee status.

People arriving at Canada's land border with the United States are required to take a COVID-19 test when they enter the country and a second test after they have self-isolated at home for 14 days.

Ford asks Trudeau to tighten border

On Feb. 22, 2021, the federal government implemented new quarantine measures at airports requiring all air travellers returning from non-essential trips abroad to isolate in a federally mandated facility for up to 72 hours while they await the results of a polymerase chain reaction test, commonly known as a PCR test, for COVID-19.

The three-day mandatory quarantine stay at a federally designated facility can cost as much as $2,000 per person. In a series of letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ford has asked for those measures to be extended to the land border. 

The federal government has batted away that request, saying that there are 117 points of entry that Canada shares with the U.S., and many of them are far away from hotels.

"The safest and most effective way to manage people who are arriving at our borders by land is by the system that we have put in place," Blair told CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Thursday.

Blair said Canadians returning by land from the U.S. while contained in their cars, with their families, and going directly home after their tests to quarantine for two weeks "is the safest way to manage those people."

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