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 mount a dead horse, get off your horse,” 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’ve all supported the federal government with all the border restrictions; we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with them to make sure we’re 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 meant to do. originally planned 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 are avoiding crossing the border altogether. We need to return to pre-pandemic Canada-US border management.”
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 with – and even if they can do it on a computer, nothing is simple; there’s no point,” 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, effective 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.
Travel industry groups have blamed federal public health measures and mandates for slowdowns at airport customs that have contributed to long waits for passengers and forced flight delays and cancellations.
Those delays will only get worse now that the rules are changing for some travelers, but not all, Firestone warned.
“Airport flow will increase significantly on Monday,” he said, including among Canadian travelers who don’t fully understand international rules. “Look at what happens at the airport when they land and they haven’t completed their ArriveCan correctly.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 15, 2022.
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