Feds formalizing request made by Ontario Premier Doug Ford to suspend arrival of international students

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he is working to formalize a request made by Ontario Premier Doug Ford to suspend the arrival of international students in the province.

Speaking to reporters late Friday morning, Trudeau said Ontario is the only province making such a request and they are “happy to work more narrowly with them.”

“We’ll be reaching out to their officials today to formalize that request,” Trudeau said.

International students are currently exempt from Canada’s COVID-19 travel rules. All students must be able to provide a valid study permit or a letter of introduction that shows they were approved for a permit.

The request is the latest in a slew of demands made by the Ontario government when it comes to travel.

Earlier in the day on Friday, the province asked the federal government to implement a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine program for people travelling across land borders.

In a letter to Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair and Minister of Health Patty Hadju, the Ford government noted there are reports of international travellers booking flights to nearby U.S. airports and then either driving or walking across the border.

As it stands, anyone travelling into Canada on an international flight--including international students--must take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and must reserve a hotel for three nights where they can isolate and await their results. The hotel must be booked prior to arriving in the country.

If a person receives a negative COVID-19 test, they can continue their 14-day quarantine period elsewhere.

The rules differ for those who cross into Canada at a land border.

Travellers must show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival and prove that they have a plan for their 14-day quarantine period. Travellers will also be given another COVID-19 test to take eight days after arrival.

“With several land border crossings between the United States and the Province of Ontario, this loophole represents a significant threat to the health and well-being of Ontarians due to the potential for further entry of COVID-19 variants into the province,” the letter, which was signed by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.

“In the past two weeks, over 150,000 people – not including essential commercial truckers – have crossed Canada’s land borders. This includes dozens of individuals who crossed between April 24, and April 26, 2021, after travelling from countries where direct flights to Canada are currently banned. This is not just an Ontario problem – it is a Canada-wide problem.”

Jones and Elliott are specifically calling for an implementation of a mandatory three-day quarantine in a federally designated hotel at crossings with the highest traffic, including Niagara, Windsor, Sarnia and Brockville. Those travelling across the Rainbow Bridge would also be subject to the quarantine rules.

“It is important that all travelers in these regions are met with the same quarantine requirement, to ensure that all points of entry are protected,” the letter said.

Trudeau, meanwhile, told reporters on Friday that there is a difference in terms of risk travelling through an airport and a land border. He added that over the last year, 95 per cent of travel into Canada has shut down.

“There is a fundamental difference between someone arriving on connecting flights from anywhere around the world at our airports, which is why we have required government approved accommodations,” he said.

“The only people travelling across our border in any way right now are either permanent citizens are Canadians returning home, essential workers and limited number of exception cases that have squashed the number down to five per cent of what it used to be in previous years.”

FORD WOULD SHUT DOWN PEARSON AIRPORT IF HE COULD

Speaking to reporters on Friday a virtual news conference, Ford reiterated that more needs to be done to prevent COVID-19 variants from entering the country.

“We could one day soon face a variant that is resistant to our vaccines,” Ford said, adding that 90 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario are now identified as variants.

“I assure you, if I had the power, I would close down Pearson Airport immediately. I would shut down the land border crossings to only those who are absolutely essential, because I would do everything in my power to stop a vaccine-resistant variant from getting into out country and bringing a fourth wave with it.”

The premier added that too many people are “exploiting these weak measures” at land borders.

“As long as you can fly to Buffalo, take a taxi or a limo to the U.S. border and walk across to Canada to avoid having to quarantine in a hotel, as long as these massive loopholes exist, we're not safe from these new variants.”

“I will use every tool I have to make sure the action we need is taken, to make sure I don't have to stand here one day soon and tell you that we face a fourth wave, fueled by a vaccine-resistant variant. We just can't let that happen.”

Jones and Elliott also reiterated a request made earlier this week that COVID-19 testing be done pre-departure for domestic flights.

Over the weekend, Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government to ban non-essential travel after 36 cases of the B.1.617 variant originally found in India were identified in the province.

Of the 36 cases identified, six were linked to international travel and were detected through PHO’s genomic surveillance program.

The other 30 were detected through Ontario’s airport and land border screening programs.

The province has also set up checkpoints at interprovincial borders to restrict land travel between Quebec and Manitoba to essential travel only.

Travellers who are coming into Ontario for purposes other than work, medical care, transportation of goods and exercising Indigenous treaty rights will be turned back at the border.