Politics

Ottawa loosens COVID-19 border restrictions to allow some families to reunite

Canada will begin to allow some family members separated by temporary COVID-19 travel restrictions to enter the country.

Exemption kicks in at midnight

The Peace Arch-Douglas border crossing between Canada and the United States in Surrey, B.C., is seen in March. Some exemptions to cross-border travel restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic are coming. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Canada will begin to allow some family members separated by temporary COVID-19 travel restrictions to cross the border into the country.

"We are bringing in a limited exemption to allow immediate family members of citizens or permanent residents to come to Canada," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today during his morning news conference. "This is an incredibly difficult time to be apart from a spouse, a child, or mom or dad."

Anyone who enters the country will have to self-quarantine for 14 days, he said.

"And if you don't follow these rules, you could face serious penalties."

The Canada Border Services Agency said the exemption will kick in at midnight tonight. It applies to foreign nationals who are immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, and who do not have COVID-19 or are showing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19, "or who do not have reason to believe they have COVID-19."

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino clarified that the exemption applies in the context of Canada's temporary deal with the United States banning non-essential travel (meaning no recreational visits) across the shared border, while keeping it open to commercial traffic and essential workers. That deal remains in effect until June 21.

"It's important to note that the exemption we announced today is very incremental, it's very targeted," he said.

Mendicino's office later clarified that the minister had misunderstood a question, and confirmed that the exemption applies to all foreign nationals hoping to temporarily visit relatives in Canada, not just those entering from the U.S. Valid travel visa documents are required.

Watch: Minister explains plan to reopen border for family reunification

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says exemption for immediate family members to cross Canada-U.S. border includes 14-day quarantine. 1:34

A number of stories have emerged in the past few weeks of families stuck on opposite sides of the border, including expectant parents.

"To be clear, the immediate family exemption does not mean the border will now be open to weekend travellers, or those seeking just to attend a personal or social gathering," said the minister.

Through this exemption, the government is defining an 'immediate family member' as someone's:

  • Spouse or common-law partner
  • Dependent child
  • Parent or step-parent or the parent or step-parent of the person's spouse or common-law partner;
  • Guardian or tutor.

Outside of its U.S. agreement, the government barred entry to most non-residents back in March.

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to include more information from Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino's office, clarifying his remarks to state that the travel exemption applies to all foreign nationals and is not confined to the Canada-U.S. border.
    Jun 16, 2020 1:40 PM ET

With files from the Canadian Press

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