The Canada-U.S. border is expected to stay closed to non-essential travel until June 21 to safeguard citizens in both countries from the spread of COVID-19, according to sources with knowledge of the bilateral talks.
Non-essential travel across the border was first restricted to all on March 21 for a 30-day period in an effort to stem the transmission of novel coronavirus. The restriction was extended until May 21 and sources say U.S. and Canadian officials are in talks that will see the border closure extended for another month.
The sources said Canada asked for a 30-day roll over and it is almost certain that Washington will agree to the proposal. The Globe and Mail granted anonymity to the sources, who were not allowed to publicly discuss Canada-U.S. border talks.
One senior source said the hard debate will come next month when there will likely be different views on when to begin to lift the restrictions.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who is facing a tough re-election fight in the face of a severe economic downturn caused by COVID-19, has been pushing U.S. states to return to work and get the economy moving again.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated Tuesday that Ottawa is unlikely to ease travel restrictions soon at the U.S. border to allow for non-essential travel.
“We’re going to be very, very careful about reopening any international travel, including in the United States, before we feel that it is time,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters Tuesday.
“Our priority needs to be keeping Canadians safe. And that is the spirit in which we have engaged in constant and constructive dialogue with the Americans to talk about shared interests, including the border.”
Once the border opens, Mr. Trudeau said the government is “looking at stronger measures to make sure that we’re following up appropriately with people who come over.”
Mr. Trudeau said it is crucial that “preventing transmission from outside of Canada into Canada once we have controlled the spread within Canada will be an essential part of ensuring that we don’t fall back into a second wave.”
Richard Mills, Chargé d’Affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ottawa, said in a statement Tuesday that the “current travel restrictions maintain the flow of essential workers and commerce between our two countries while protecting our citizens through the reduction in non-essential travel.”
Some provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia, have been strongly opposed to reopening the U.S. border until health authorities gave the go-ahead.
“It’s our view that the border should not open for visitors at this time,” B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday. “With respect to the United States right now, it would make no sense to have visitors travelling either from Canada to the United States and returning or to have visitors – not essential traffic, but visitors – coming from the United States to Canada.”
The partial closure of the border does not affect essential travel, including truck and rail traffic carrying food and goods essential to supply chains as well as travel to get to work. Flights between both countries continue.
During a virtual question period on Tuesday, NDP MP Brian Masse, who represents the border riding of Windsor West, raised concerns about the coronavirus in the state of Michigan.
“The city of Detroit alone has more deaths than the entire province of Ontario,” Mr. Masse said, adding that border communities of Sarnia and Windsor have a higher per capita infection rate than the rest of the province.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said all decisions about Canada’s border are taken by Canadians with health and safety in mind.
“We are in very close conversations with the Americans about next steps,” she said.
Ms. Freeland declined to provide specifics on what is being discussed with U.S. counterparts but said the Canadian government is taking a cautious approach.
Goldy Hyder, President of the Business Council of Canada, said his organization supports an extension, saying border controls on non-essential travel has worked well and not impeded the flow of goods.
“Essential goods and services have been able to cross and should continue do do,” Mr. Hyder said. “Any reopening of the border to non-essential travel should be done cautiously and it should be the health and safety of Canadians first.”
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