Foreign policy expert: Canadian border announcement likely in June

May 31, 2021, 4:08 PM | Updated: Jun 1, 2021, 8:45 am
Canadian border...
Americans eager to get back to summer weekend trips to Vancouver may soon be in luck. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)
(Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

It has been closed for more than 14 months, but could we see the U.S./Canadian border open in time for summer tourism?

One expert believes it’s likely.

Dr. Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University, expects that on June 21 — the end date of the current border extension — we won’t simply see another 30-day extension as has happened every month since the border first closed in March 2020. Instead, she predicts an announcement of coming change, or changes being put into place already.

“From what I’m hearing from the Canadian side, there will likely be something happening — whether that is announcing an actual plan, which has not yet been developed, around easing the border restrictions, or perhaps some sort of easing,” she said.

Gov. Inslee wants to look into reopening border ‘in coming months’

Trautman said whatever happens, the U.S. will likely open its side of the border faster, because American government officials have in general been more vocal about getting things moving again.

However, she did note that last week, “Canada just convened an expert advisory panel on COVID testing and quarantine requirements at Canada’s borders, … specific strategies that could be applied to the border to start easing restrictions.”

Trautman and her colleagues at the Border Policy Research Institute contributed information to this panel, encouraging Canada to allow vaccinated people to enter the country without quarantining.

“Whether or not [the strategies] are taken up by the government of Canada is kind of the next step that we’re watching,” Trautman said.

The report identified five types of travelers: exempt travelers (the essential workers and other certain exempt people who are allowed in right now); fully-vaccinated non-exempt travelers; partially-vaccinated non-exempt travelers (who have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine); non-exempt travelers who have had and recovered from COVID; and non-exempt travelers who are unvaccinated. The recommendations for showing proof, getting tested, and quarantining vary for each of these groups, with those who have been fully vaccinated needing to only show proof and take a rapid test at the border.

“As an American who’s fully vaccinated, I should be able to upload my vaccine card through their ArriveCAN app, which they’re currently using, and then be exempt from the quarantine,” Trautman said. “And that should be allowed for any trip purpose because if I’m fully vaccinated, it doesn’t matter why I’m going.”

Currently, the only people who can cross are essential workers, or — in some cases when going to Canada — to visit relatives in times of emergency.

Those who enter Canada by air or land, including returning Canadians, must quarantine for 14 days. Trautman explained that this is a very strict quarantine, in which government officials can check up on people to see if they are following the rules; being caught breaking quarantine can get you a hefty fine.

However, Trautman is hopeful that with more and more people getting vaccinated, the government will adopt the policies recommended in the report and drop the quarantine for those who have had the shot.

“There have been a lot of people working really hard on this issue, there are so many different moving parts, so many different agencies involved, but we’re finally, I think, getting to a place where restrictions are going to be eased, and I think they’re going to be eased in a very thoughtful and safe way on the Canadian side,” she said. “And that’s a very important part of enabling people to feel safe, that they can move back and forth again.”

While Governor Inslee has spoken of wanting to get the Canadian border reopened “in the near future,” and while Washington’s Congressional delegation wrote a letter to President Biden asking for a reopening months ago, Trautman observed that Canada has taken a markedly more cautious approach.

“The latest wave really hit them hard; the U.S. was really kind of spared the latest wave because we got going on our vaccine sooner,” she said. “They also had, I think, more issues with their variants of concern.”

As a result, she said, the Canadian people on the whole have not been chomping at the bit to get the border reopened.

“The Canadian public sentiment has really strongly supported keeping the border restrictions in place, and so of course that drives what elected political leaders are going to do,” Trautman said.

Another reason for this is that Canadian cities near the border have not felt the same economic devastation as the U.S. communities around the border that are missing out on tourists and day-trippers from the other side of the 49th parallel.

“Around 70% of border-crossers are Canadians,” Trautman said. “They’re coming down into Whatcom County, into Seattle as well, but they’re coming here to shop and recreate. … Generally, for the most part, U.S. communities on the U.S. side of the border have probably been impacted more than the Canadian side, in terms of economic impact.”

The delegation’s letter observed that, in 2018, Canadian visitors spent $138 million at Whatcom County businesses. The number of crossings in 2020 was down to just 2% of the previous rate, causing a massive revenue shortfall for shops, restaurants, and hotels.

If the border reopens but Canada keeps its quarantine even for fully-vaccinated travelers, Trautman predicts that business won’t pick up much, since people aren’t likely to take a shopping daytrip if it means quarantining for 14 days afterward.

Trautman noted that the Canadian border closure has been costly, not just economically, but emotionally. The closure has separated family members and even couples, with Peace Arch Park — a no-man’s land that can be accessed without passing through border controls — the only way to meet.

But with Canada now moving rapidly and even exceeding the U.S. in terms of first vaccine doses given, Trautman is confident the light at the end of the tunnel is within reach.

“We’re going to see something happen on June 22nd, and that something will likely be some sort of easing of restrictions. It’s likely going to look different for U.S. entry versus Canadian entry. The Canadians are going to move slower,” she said. “But they are going to begin to do something, to at least develop a plan, or to actually implement that plan.”

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Foreign policy expert: Canadian border announcement likely in June