New border crossing rules getting pushback

In this 2006 file photo, motorists from St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, wait to go through U.S. Customs at Calais, Maine, at the nation's seventh-busiest crossing on the Canadian border. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

The new rules for Canadian travellers coming back into Canada to provide a negative PCR COVID-19 test for trips longer than 72 hours are coming under fire from a number of sectors, including the official opposition in Parliament.

The new, relaxed rules, allowing fully-vaccinated Canadians to cross the U.S. border and come back home afterwards in less than 72 hours without a negative COVID-19 test, comes into effect on November 30. Longer trips, whether flying or driving, will require a negative PCR test, even if the traveller is fully vaccinated.

The pushback was immediate, both from trucking lobby groups and the airline industry in Canada, who believe that the requirement for a PCR or molecular test should be set aside for all fully vaccinated travellers.

“By only focussing on short trips and Canadian travellers, government has taken a piecemeal approach that is not justified or based on science,” Canadian Airlines Council of Canada CEO Peter McNaney said in a statement. “To our knowledge, no other country in the world has adopted such a narrow approach.”

Canadian Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Perrin Beatty said the requirement of a PCR test is an “absurdity” and needs to be dropped.

“It’s time for us to apply common sense. Pull the PCR test. It is redundant,” said Beatty. “We’re the outlier, and other countries don’t use it.”

Those groups will have an ally in the official opposition, which is expected to press the government on those new rules when the new Parliament sits next week.

“This is a half-measure, and I think it’s confusing, and I think that the prime minister ought to start listening to his own expert advisory panel. Scrapping the PCR test specifically for vaccinated travellers, it’s not something that the panel ever required,” said Tory MP Melissa Lantsman, who is her party’s transport critic.

“Scrapping the PCR test is where we need to go. We need to do it for our economy. We need to do it to get in line with our allies.”

Even though Canadians travelling to the United States must be fully vaccinated, they do not require a molecular test if returning before 72 hours. Americans coming to Canada require that test.

Over the next two months, that mandate will become even tougher. As of January 15, 2022, all those now exempt from many border rule requirements, such as pro athletes, would be subject to a vaccination mandate and will not be allowed in the country without being fully vaccinated. That group incudes essential workers such as truck drivers.

The CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance said if Ottawa decides to apply a vaccine mandate in January, up to a fifth of the country’s international transport professionals might call it quits.

The industry is also short of drivers as it stands at present, said Stephen Laskowski, and anything that worsens the labour situation will snarl supply chains and as many as 20 percent of the 120,000 Canadian truck drivers who make cross-border runs will call it quits.

Additionally, Laskowski argued that truck drivers – given the solitary nature of their work – represent a relatively low transmission risk.

“What we found over the last two years is that truck driving as an occupation is well below the national or local rate of contracting COVID-19,” Laskowski said.  “So, the risks are low among truck drivers.”

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government would monitor the rule changes and would be prepared to make adjustments as necessary.

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase