The Canada-U.S. border could be closed for another month

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By Rachel Aiello CTV Ottawa News Bureau Online Producer

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the current talks underway to extend the Canada-U.S. border restrictions prohibiting all non-essential travel across the border for another month are “going well,” and now’s not the time to talk about terms of loosening the cross-border shutdown.

Last month, Canada and the United States agreed to extend the closure for at least another month. That agreement is set to expire on May 21.

Canada is now looking to see that extended, even as parts of both countries begin gradually reopening. Federal officials are in discussion with Homeland Security about putting off the loosening of cross-border travel restrictions to June 21.

While an agreement has yet to be made with a week to go, Trudeau said he is “confident about being able to continue to keep Canadians safe.”

Asked what progress has been made establishing terms or measures for an eventual reopening to tourists, Trudeau said the government is still “making decisions for right now.”

“We are a good week away from the expiry of the current phase of our border restrictions, with the United States. Conversations are ongoing… I won't make any announcements today, but I can say that things are going well,” he said.

'IT'S NOT SIMPLE'

The agreement, as it stands, exempts the flow of trade and commerce, as well as vital health-care workers such as nurses who live and work on opposite sides of the border.

While agreement on an extension is not guaranteed, last week Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the discussions around keeping travel restrictions in place have remained “very neighbourly.”

Though, some in the business community are looking for some tweaks to the agreement as it stands.

Canadian American Business Council CEO Maryscott Greenwood said that largely the current commerce accommodations are working, but there are instances where it is not and more needs to be done.

“We’re actually calling on both governments to develop an essential commerce designation, it’s like a trusted traveller designation, but it would be for folks in the supply chain that need to get back and forth, that need to deliver goods and they’ve have had trouble so far,” she said, citing examples of people looking to get across who aren’t in a train or transport truck.

Because the current approach leaves it up to the discretion of individual border agents at the crossings, it is an unpredictable situation for some essential workers, said Greenwood.

More broadly with states that neighbour Canadian provinces starting to lift restrictions, the reality in some areas is becoming quite different, even within close geographic proximity.

“It’s not simple, it has to do with health-care capacity to deal with the crisis, it has to do with the loss of human life, and it has to do with testing, and local governments’ confidence and ability to be able to secure the health and safety of their own population before they open it up to others to come in,” Greenwood said.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVELLERS A RISK 

Offering a further indication of Canada’s current position on the border, Trudeau flagged concerns that opening up international travel would make Canadians “vulnerable” as countries worldwide are still working to contain outbreaks.

“I think every country recognizes that as we control our domestic situation, we are vulnerable to international travellers. Different countries are facing different challenges and as we manage the spread COVID-19, we want to make sure that we're not becoming vulnerable for from travellers arriving elsewhere,” Trudeau said.

As of midday Wednesday Canada has 71,490 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 5,212 deaths. To date, the United States has more than 1.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and has reported more than 82,000 deaths. 

It has been two months since Trudeau’s first Rideau Cottage address. At that time, the advice to Canadians was to avoid all non-essential travel but the Canada-U.S. border remained open.

On Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the severity of the outbreak in the United States means Americans “present a risk to Canada.”

Trudeau has vowed to move with caution when it comes to any eventual loosening of travel restrictions.

With files from CTV News’ Michel Boyer

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