Immediate families may soon be able to cross the border

trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is looking into possible tweaks to the current Canada-U.S. border restrictions that could allow immediate families to reunite.

“We have been looking at ways of perhaps allowing close family members, children, spouses, or parents of Canadian citizens or permanent residents to be able to reunite under strict conditions through a slight modification of the directives for the Canadian Border Services Agency,” Trudeau said Friday, without any specifics on how quickly this policy change could come.

The prime minister indicated that allowing immediate family members to cross in to Canada could happen without a change to the cross-border agreement in place with the United States.

The border between Canada and the U.S. has been closed to all non-essential or “discretionary” travel since mid-March in response to the pandemic, resulting in families being separated for more than two months now. The latest extension on the restrictions is in effect until June 21 at least.

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. Tourists and cross-border visits remain prohibited. It’s likely that should this policy change go ahead, the 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Canada would still need to occur for these family members.

Citing media reports and direct concerns raised by Members of Parliament, Trudeau said he is aware of a number of cases where close families have been apart due to their differing citizenship, and so the federal government is now “looking at how can we support families that are going through extremely difficult times.” 

This is a change of position from two weeks ago when CTV News asked Trudeau whether family reunification would be considered an essential reason to cross the Canada-U.S. border. He said then that while it is a difficult situation, the prohibition on families reuniting was necessary to keep Canadians safe.Trudeau said the topic of loosening the travel restrictions came up on his call with the premiers on Thursday night, but the response was mixed.

“There are a number of premiers who feel that for reasons of compassion, we should and could move forward with this measure. There are others who expressed a certain amount of concern about it. We will continue to engage with them, we will continue to look into this matter, and ensure that no matter what we do, we are keeping the well-being of Canadians at the forefront of any decision,” Trudeau said.

The latest extension on the border restrictions was made in part because of the continuing risk people in other countries pose in terms of carrying the virus into Canada. The United States currently has the largest number of COVID-19 cases of any country around the world, with more than 1.7 million cases. As of Friday Canada had just over 89,000 confirmed cases.