Canada to allow family of citizens across U.S. border amid COVID-19 shutdown

WATCH (May 29, 2020): Trudeau ‘looking at ways’ to allow Canadians' close family members living in U.S. to reunite

The Canadian government will implement a “limited exemption” at the Canada-U.S. border that will allow immediate family members of citizens or permanent residents to enter the country.

While the border measures have been an important part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that it’s separated some families.

“This is an incredibly difficult time to be apart from a spouse, a child or mom or dad. We hear that,” he told reporters from Ottawa on Monday. “That’s why we are bringing in a limited exemption to allow immediate family members of citizens or permanent residents to come to Canada.”

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Non-essential travel has been halted at the border since the pandemic took hold in Canada.

The goal of the exemption is to reunite families, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said, but it will continue to abide by public health controls to reduce the risk of transmission.

The amendment comes into effect at midnight on June 9.

A number of conditions apply to those seeking to cross, he said.

“Immediate family members” will be defined as spouses, common-law partners, dependent children and their children, parents and legal guardians.

Secondly, those who do choose to cross the border must also abide by the 14-day quarantine rule, Mendicino said.

In fact, he said, “immediate family members must plan to stay in Canada for at least 15 days.”

The same public health guidelines also apply, including screenings at the border.

“All the rules that are in place to reduce the risks attached to COVID-19 remain in place,” he said in French. “When there are issues of high risk, we re-evaluate things on a case-by-case basis.”

Trudeau emphasized that those who do not follow the rules are still subject to “serious penalties.”

The government is enforcing the Quarantine Act during the pandemic, which means those who enter the country from abroad are legally required to self-isolate for 14 days. They must also have “credible” quarantine plans. Should they not, travellers are forced to stay at a quarantine facility, such as a hotel.

Those who don’t abide by the rules can face a fine of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for six months. Those penalties jump to $1 million and three years in prison should someone jeopardize another’s life while contravening the act.

The change does not apply to immediate family members of temporary residents in Canada, such as those on a student or work visa.

“To be clear, the immediate family exemption does not mean the border will now be opened again to travellers or those seeking to attend a personal or social gathering,” Mendicino said.

“For people travelling from abroad, they must still have a valid visa or electronic travel authorization.”

The Canada-U.S. border closed to all non-essential traffic at midnight on March 20.

The border has remained open for essential travel, which includes the transportation of goods and travel for work, in order not to hamper trade and the supply chains between the two countries.

The decision to close the border was agreed upon by both Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump following public health advice.

The current agreement with the U.S. expires June 21 but has been extended twice since it was first imposed.

Mendicino said the exemption was made in collaboration with U.S. counterparts. He said the measure will be “monitored carefully” as Canada “continues to maintain the integrity of our borders.”

“The purpose of this measure is not to allow people to come and go into Canada whenever they like, but rather to help Canadian families reunite during this unprecedented time,” he said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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