Officials from Canada-US border communities left economically walloped by pandemic restrictions, including the mayors of Sarnia and Windsor, are making yet another pitch to ditch the ArriveCAN app and all other lingering pandemic border rules.
An open letter released Sept. 20 – and addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden, and signed by 15 Canadian city mayors, seven American mayors and 16 MPs – calls for returning “to a normal, pre-pandemic state” and getting rid of the smartphone app that still must be filled out for people to cross the border into Canada.
“As elected leaders, we are standing together to call on both of your governments to remove unnecessary restrictions and allow our communities to recover,” the letter said.
The border communities have been lobbying for months to have the app focused and the restrictions dropped, arguing the rules have cut to the core of their communities’ livelihoods. There has been little response from the federal government.
The communities take issue especially with the Canadian government’s insistence on the ArriveCAN app that must be completed with proof of at least two COVID-19 vaccinations before a traveler can enter the country. Also, non-vaccinated travelers can be ordered into quarantine and there is still random testing at border crossings.
The app was introduced in the fall of 2021, along with requirements for pricey lab-reviewed negative tests, when the Canadian government finally opened the Canada-US border to non-essential travel after keeping it closed for 18 months.
The testing requirement was removed in the spring, but the app has remained in place. Border cities that rely on steady travel across the international boundary say the requirements have cut deeply into their local economies and have especially stemmed the tide of tourism dollars from Americans unwilling to submit private information to the Canadian government.
“To me, it was always about the lost summer of tourism opportunities with the Americans, because of the fact the app was in existence,” Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said.
Mayors and MPs from Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick and mayors from New York State, Maine, Vermont, Michigan and Washington State all signed the letter at the same time.
And there’s a hint the federal government might be ready to listen.
On the weekend, a Toronto-based news report suggested the Canadian government is considering ending all the pandemic requirements for travelers entering Canada by the end of September when an Order in Council setting the restrictions is to expire.
Reports said the ArriveCAN app may become optional for Canadians to make custom declarations, but won’t be required to show proof of vaccination.
Bradley said many communities are mystified why the federal government hasn’t budgeted on dropping ArriveCAN when it let go of other pandemic restrictions.
“All along, I believed there was a greater purpose going on in Ottawa” for using the app for other border purposes, such customs and border agents, Bradley said.
“When all is said and done, that blue line is the best line possible to deal with people at that border,” he said.
In the letter, the mayors and officials say “we did our part to keep Canadians and Americans safe” and were in favor of the restrictive public health measures when the pandemic began and the virus was at its peak.
That was a sacrifice, given “our land borders are the most integrated in the world in terms of economies and communities and should never be closed again.”
“That is the nature of our land border: constantly coming and going. While life returns to normal everywhere else, your government regulations have prevented us from resuming our way of life and economic base,” the letter said.
“We have been left behind on the recovery effort as both countries have largely returned to normal daily life.”
A lot of attention has been paid to how the ongoing restrictions have affected air travel, with so many travelers that airports and custom officials can’t quickly process both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers.
“Land borders, on the other hand, are regulated at the expense of communities whose entire livelihood depends on the back-and-forth crossing of the Canadian-American border,” the letter said.