Trudeau government considering end to COVID-19 vaccination mandate at border and random testing: sources
The federal government is considering turning the page on pandemic-era restrictions by ending the COVID-19 vaccination mandate at the border and scrapping random testing requirements, the Star has learned.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have yet to make a final decision, but several sources confirmed ministers will soon weigh in on a move that could also spell the end of the unpopular ArriveCAN app.
That would mean unvaccinated foreigners would once again be allowed to visit Canada. Unvaccinated Canadians would also no longer face fines of up to $5,000 if they couldn’t show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a previous positive infection before entering the country, and would no longer need to quarantine at home for 14 days, and be subject to on-arrival testing.
The government is also weighing ending mandatory random testing for vaccinated travellers. The practice was temporarily suspended on June 11 before being reinstated again on July 19, and is now being done outside of airports, with virtual appointments and at-home testing kits or in-person at some pharmacies.
As recently as this summer, the federal government insisted “testing was and remains an important part of our surveillance program to track the importation of COVID-19 virus into Canada and identify new variants of concern.” Provinces pointed to Ottawa’s continued border testing as they curbed their own testing.
The Public Health Agency of Canada’s data shows test positivity rates increased from early June to mid-July in unvaccinated travellers (from 3.7 per cent to seven per cent), but the agency has not published any figures since all testing was moved off-site. It said data is “undergoing quality control checks.”
Over the summer, the government got an earful from travelling Canadians frustrated by the extra burden of uploading their proof of vaccination, travel details and quarantine plans into the mandatory ArriveCAN app.
The union representing guards at the Canada Border Services Agency called on Ottawa to scrap the app, saying its officers were too much time helping people fill out their forms instead of focusing on their customs work. Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said the app was causing unnecessary delays at the border and killing tourism. Even the Canadian American Business Council launched a public-relations campaign to encourage the federal government to drop the app, saying it feared a thickening of the border.
Their voices were added to those of Conservative MPs, who have called on the Liberal government to change course for months. In his acceptance speech Saturday, newly minted Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre earned his loudest cheers of the night by slamming the “disastrous ArriveCAN” app.
As recently as Sept. 1, the government was promoting the app. It lauded the fact travellers could use it to submit their customs and immigration declarations ahead of arrival at airports in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and announced the feature would be extended to travellers at seven others in the coming weeks.
Now, with pressure mounting — from both within their own caucus and bureaucracy — to eliminate rules seen as outdated and unnecessary, the Liberals are preparing to put an end to a divisive chapter.
Sources within government say the Liberals are following through on what they said they would do: constantly re-evaluate the threat environment and change course when new information warranted.
Although hundreds of people are still dying of COVID-19 each week — 217 between Sept. 4 and 10 — the risks are lower, more treatment options are available, vaccines and boosters have made a huge difference and hospitalization rates are seen to be less concerning.
This would be a “natural evolution of our policies,” one source said.
On June 20, the government “suspended” its vaccination requirement for all passengers on planes and trains, as well federal government employees. Those mandates were the source of much anger during the 2021 election campaign, and helped mobilize frustration against the Liberal government this winter, culminating in the occupation of the capital by the so-called “Freedom Convoy.”
At the time of the June announcement, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and Treasury Board President Mona Fortier pointed to the success of the government’s vaccination mandates, saying they had protected the health of Canadians and mitigated the full impacts of the virus.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, however, rang a more cautious note, saying the government didn’t know what it would face this fall and everyone should be prudent and stay up to date with their vaccinations and booster doses.
The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that at least 18,404 fines were issued between April 14, 2020 and Sept. 8, 2022 for COVID-19-related offences, such as refusing to go to government-approved quarantine accommodations, arriving without a valid pre-entry test, refusing arrival testing and breaching quarantine.