The federal government is easing the current cross-border travel policies on family reunification, expanding who will be allowed into Canada while also boosting monitoring for travellers entering the country.
While the Canadian border is set to remain closed for another month at least to all non-essential travel, changes are coming to allow more extended family members into Canada on compassionate grounds, as well as allowing international students to enter the country under certain criteria.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Health Minister Patty Hajdu made the announcement about updated border measures and travel regulations on Friday, stating that compassion is needed in light of the worsening spread in some regions of Canada that will likely lead to renewed lockdown measures.
"We needed to take these steps, given that this is not a short term problem," said Hajdu. "This disease is not going away any time soon."
As of Oct. 8, extended family members of Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents, including those in an exclusive dating relationship of at least one year and their dependent children, as well as adult children, grandchildren, siblings and grandparents can come to Canada.
In the case of long-term but unmarried couples who do not share an address, they will need to provide a notarized declaration about their relationship.
Also able to enter the country as of Oct. 8 will be non-relative foreign nationals under compassionate reasons in specific circumstances, such as a close friend experiencing a life-threatening illness, critical injury or death, with the potential for limited release from quarantine to visit the injured or dying loved one.
"These situations could include being with someone you love to say goodbye at the end of their lives, or attending a funeral, or end of life ceremony… The decision to allow someone to end their quarantine early will be coordinated with the provincial or territorial government," Hajdu said.
Starting Oct. 20, international students who are attending a learning institution that has a COVID-19 readiness plan in place that's been cleared by provincial or territorial health authorities will also be able to enter Canada.
The federal government says more detailed information about who can qualify for the new entry allowance will be available on the government's website next week, but it will include each traveller needing to apply for and be issued a travel authorization before coming to Canada.
Travellers entering Canada will still need to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival unless specifically granted an exemption, and plan to stay in the country for at least 15 days.
"These are the relationships that are helping us to get through these unprecedented times... At the same time, many families and loved ones have been kept apart, and are separated from their Canadian relatives," Mendicino said. "While the travel restrictions we've put into place have been difficult, the protections at the border are helping to keep us safe through the pandemic."
NEW MONITORING MEASURES
While the government will soon be allowing more people into Canada, it's also enhancing the current monitoring measures in place to make sure everyone is following their mandatory quarantine orders.
Soon, 190 public health officers will be deployed to borders across the country and the Public Health Agency of Canada will be adding on more staff to call travellers who are quarantining to check in on them.
According to the government, nearly one million contacts have been made since the beefed-up border measures first went into place to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 in March. Failure to comply with the national quarantine law could result in a fine or jail time, depending on the severity of the situation.
As well, the Public Health Agency of Canada is sending new digital portals for travellers to share their personal and contact information, including through the ArriveCAN app, so data can be transmitted to provinces and territories for further follow-up.
"Any individual who cannot be reached… or if there is a suspicion that someone is not currently complying with the quarantine requirements, local law enforcement follows up and they have the full authority to issue fines and undertake enforcement, as is necessary," Blair said.
Travellers flying to Canada have to pass a health check before boarding their flight, and any foreign national showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 are not allowed to enter the country.
TRAVEL CASES 'TINY FRACTION': PM
Asked about the incoming policy change ahead of the announcement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government's top priority remains keeping Canadians safe.
"From the very beginning, our priority has been quite simple: Making sure that Canadians are protected from COVID-19 and that has meant taking strong actions at the border and continually looking how we can improve our actions to prevent importation of COVID-19," Trudeau said.
He went on to say that community transmission is the biggest driver of new cases, whereas the importation of cases from outside of Canada is a "tiny fraction" of the source of the virus' spread.
"What we're doing is working and we need to continue it, however, we can always look at ways to improve our measures while keeping Canadians safe and to do a better job of understanding the heart-wrenching stories of families divided, of compassionate cases that should be given flexibility, that wouldn't endanger Canadian safety," Trudeau said.
The ministers doubled down on this position, stating that travel is not the reason for the ongoing spread of the virus within Canada.
Blair said that between two and three per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada have been tied to travel.
Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho said that the policy change is a “welcome relief for many Canadians” but comes too late for some.
“We will be closely monitoring the situation and are ready to sound the alarm if the government’s new process for reunifying families is unreasonably slow or ineffective,” she said in a statement.
FAMILIES' PLEAS HEARD
As of June 9, foreign nationals who are immediate family members of either Canadian citizens or permanent residents were permitted to enter Canada to be reunited, under a limited exemption to the current border restrictions. This has allowed both foreign and cross-border Canada-U.S. families to reunite under certain stipulations, including parents, spouses, common-law partners, dependent children and their children.
However, many other families remained separated by the border restrictions including non-married couples. People in that predicament have been putting considerable political and public pressure on politicians and policymakers to further ease up on the rules.
Once such couple—Ontario woman Sarah Campbell and her fiancé Jacob Taylor—got a special mention from Mendicino during Friday's announcement. Campbell is battling cancer and Taylor has been unable to travel to Canada from the U.K. to be with her during her treatments. The couple was set to be married in Canada in June, but they postponed their wedding when the pandemic hit and Taylor was stuck overseas.
"I know you've waited a long time for today," Mendicino said.
Though, the minister couldn't say whether an early exemption to these coming policy updates would be made in the case of Charie Santiago, a British Columbia woman who is in palliative care for ovarian and uterine cancer.
Her younger sister and best friend April lives in the Philippines and has been unable to visit because of the current travel restrictions.
"My heart goes out to everybody who is separated right now… it's our commitment to try and get these processes in place as quickly as possible, so that we can reunite as many families as possible… But at the same time protecting the health and safety of Canadians," Mendicino said.