Rickford reacts to U.S. border reopening

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

As travellers and those in Fort Frances weigh their options around returning to the United States for the first time in nearly two years, Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford celebrated the work done by those in Ontario to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic while also criticizing the federal government for dragging its feet in implementing a cross-Canada vaccine passport.

Since the Canada-U.S. border, the longest land border in the world, closed in March 2020 due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, travel from both sides of the border has been limited to essential work and emergency situations. The Canadian government announced that they would allow vaccinated travellers from the United States to cross the land border in August of this year, but the U.S. government declined to make the same accommodation at that time. Now that the United States have announced the reopening of their land border to travellers from Canada and Mexico in November, concerns have arisen in border towns like Fort Frances and Windsor, Ontario surrounding the restrictions the Canadian government still requires of those crossing back into the country, regardless of origin.

Currently, anyone crossing into Canada from the United States is required to be fully vaccinated and provide a negative COVID-19 test that is less than 72 hours old that was done in the U.S.. This test cannot be a rapid antigen test. Instead, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), nucleic acid test (NAT), nucleic acid amplification test (NAATs) or reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) tests are admissible, among others. Meanwhile, crossing into the United States from the Canadian land border requires only proof or attestation of vaccination. This imbalance is what concerns border mayors, as those who are usually likely to hop across the border for quick trips for things like groceries or gas could be discouraged by the necessity of acquiring and paying for the test on a potentially regular basis.

The Canadian government’s website does state that once the border is opened for Canadian travellers to enter and return from the U.S. Canadian citizens, those registered under the Indian Act, permanent residents in the country and protected persons are allowed to have their pre-entry molecular test done in Canada, but the 72 hour time limit remains. If the 72-hour period runs out while the traveller is still in the United States, another pre-entry test must be acquired in that country.

At this point in time, however, it is important to note that Riverside Health Care cannot provide PCR tests for travel purposes, according to a spokesperson for the organization. Government regulations dictate the tests Riverside can administer are performed solely for health-related reasons.

Rickford noted that he would also like to see travel between the two countries made more accessible.

“What I’m really hopeful for is a dynamic flow back and forth across the border,” Rickford said.

“I think we’ve done a great job as a province, our collective effort as citizens, working together with all levels of government and Indigenous leadership to keep Ontario as safe as you possibly could. It’s very clear that the United States wants to welcome Canada back and we’ve welcomed the United States back and seen our economic fortunes improve here.”

Rickford also took aim at the federal government for taking too long to discuss and implement a federally standardized vaccine passport for Canadians, pointing to the efforts the Ontario government made to have a provincial equivalent ready to go. Specifically, Rickford said he has heard concerns that independent provincial passports might not be recognized by sufficiently removed countries.

“I think it’s really unfortunate that we had to come forward with a provincial vaccine passport when we knew all along, and the federal government has just realized, that [a federal vaccine passport] would have been the better way,” Rickford said.

“They promised it before the election, then the election got in the way and now we’re going to have, at least temporarily, provincial or territorial vaccine passports, and there’s a serious residual question; are they going to be accepted? I hear that they are in the United States, but for people travelling abroad, one reporter asked me the other day ‘is someone from Nigeria going to recognize a vaccine passport from Manitoba?’ That could be difficult.”

“I hate to put a cloud on the news, but people here should know the government of Ontario has worked hard to bring some kind of certification forward, we went live the 22nd of October with our own, but frankly, we’re hoping to move off of this as soon as possible,” Rickford continued.