November 23, 2022

‘Freedom movement’ rallies planned for Ottawa all summer: organizer

By James McCarten in Washington

It’s time to say goodbye to the ArriveCan app, say border town mayors, tourism industry leaders and others who complain that Canada’s strict COVID-19 rules for international travelers encourage potential US visitors to spend their tourist dollars at home.

Two Ontario mayors whose towns depend on cross-border tourism — Mike Bradley of Sarnia and Jim Diodati of Niagara Falls — on Wednesday urged the federal government to stop forcing travelers to navigate a preclearance process that many find frustrating and confusing.

“I learned a long time ago – I’ve been in politics a long time: when you get on a dead horse, get off,” Bradley said at a news conference in Ottawa.

“That’s what the federal government needs to do.

Bradley, Diodati and Estelle Muzzi, mayors of the Quebec border community of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle south of Montreal, as well as advocates for duty-free operators, say the rules curb accidental cross-border visits, which they say are vital to their local economies.

Adding insult to injury, they say, is the fact that similar rules do not exist for travelers entering the United States, especially now that Ottawa is lifting the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for domestic and international travel abroad.

Canadian and foreign visitors wishing to enter Canada must continue to use the app or an online portal to submit their vaccination information to the Canada Border Services Agency in advance, a rule that Diodati says has lost his utility.

“We all supported the federal government with all the border restrictions; we stood shoulder to shoulder with them to make sure we were safe,” he said.

“But science now tells us that these border restrictions no longer serve us. At first it was to keep the virus out – well, it’s clearly here. It doesn’t do what it was originally intended to do. »

Richard Cannings, an NDP MP whose southern B.C. riding includes six separate border crossings between Canada and the United States, said duty-free stores in those communities continue to see lower business 95% of what they were before the pandemic.

“The NDP caucus, in particular, has been very supportive of restrictions to keep Canadians safe in their travels and in their work,” Cannings said.

“But we have been calling for a border security task force for many months, a border security strategy that would bring stakeholders together to build a system that makes sense for all Canadians to protect us, but also to maintain businesses in operation.

There was an absence of American voices at Wednesday’s press conference, a stark distinction from the bilateral calls for an easing of restrictions that became an inescapable part of the pandemic last year.

That’s because American communities and tourism operators profit from the imbalance, as it encourages American travelers to stay put and spend their money closer to home, Bradley said.

“Americans, and I give them credit for it, are excellent in their own interests,” he said.

Some U.S. lawmakers have taken full political advantage of the vaccine mandate protests that hampered cross-border traffic and trade to the South earlier this year, advocating for the scaling up of domestic manufacturing and supply chains, a added Bradley.

“They were using it as an economic development tool to keep industries in their own country instead of coming here.”

Representative Brian Higgins, the New York Congressman who during the pandemic has become one of the most vocal supporters of easing travel restrictions, surfaced later Wednesday to express solidarity with his Canadian cousins.

“I join city leaders and tourism agencies in calling for an end to ArriveCan’s mandate,” Higgins said in a statement. Constituents frequently call his office, “frustrated and confused” by the constant changes in requirements to cross the border, he said.

“Therefore, to circumvent the uncertainty and hassle this creates, many avoid crossing the border altogether. We need to go back to managing the borders between the United States and Canada before the pandemic. »

Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker in Toronto who specializes in helping retirees get through the winter months in warmer climates like Florida, said ArriveCan’s requirements are particularly onerous for his clients. older and less tech-savvy.

Many of them “don’t have a phone to do it — and even if they can do it on a computer, nothing is simple about it; it’s no use,” Firestone said.

“You’re asking too much of people to the point where they’re going to say, ‘You know what, it’s just not worth it. “”

The government will “suspend” COVID-19 vaccination mandates for outbound domestic and international travelers, as well as federally regulated workers, starting Monday. Visiting foreign nationals must be vaccinated to avoid a 14-day quarantine and extensive testing.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra acknowledged the ongoing complaints, saying on Tuesday the government was working on “efficiencies” to make it cheaper. But it remains a valuable and necessary public health tool, Alghabra said.

Mark Agnew, senior vice-president of policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was due to urge the House of Commons International Trade Committee later Wednesday to recommend revamping the app to focus on broader streamlining of border procedures .

Among its current problems, Agnew says in prepared remarks, are the fact that it requires a Canadian address — something U.S. visitors are unlikely to have — and forces travelers to enter information they may have. -have already had to submit to an airline.

“There are also issues for travelers whose first language is neither English nor French,” Agnew said, noting that the app is likely to prove a drain on border agency resources as well.

“The system in its current form is not efficient and just doesn’t work,” he says. “With the summer travel season here and the last two seasons missed, we don’t have time to get it right.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 15, 2022.