A line of vehicles wait to cross the Canadian border in view of a Canadian flag made of flowers

COVID-19

As Canada border reopens to Americans, US restrictions leave many confused

Canada has reopened it border to Americans with negative COVID-19 test, ahead of opening up to other countries. But many feel shafted by the US' decision not to reciprocate, and US rules and restrictions have left some people confused.

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A line of vehicles wait to enter Canada at the Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine, Washington, Aug. 9, 2021.

Credit:

Elaine Thompson/AP

Justin Moat is looking forward to hitting the road this week to meet his 6-month-old nephew, Sawyer, for the first time.

"This kid's my blood, and I have never even laid eyes on him, other than a photograph," said Moat, a computer systems analyst in Bellingham, Washington.

With Moat's sister and nephew living in Tsawwassen, British Columbia, less than an hour's drive away from him, it wasn't the distance keeping them apart. It was the US-Canada border.

Related: US-Canadian border restrictions prove ‘soul-crushing’ for businesses in isolated Point Roberts

Once an easy-to-cross yardline between close neighbors, the 49th parallel shut down to nonessential travel in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But on Monday, Canada began permitting entry to fully vaccinated US citizens and permanent residents, who must also provide proof of a negative coronavirus test.

While the rest of the world must wait until the tentative date of Sept. 7 to visit Canada, US travelers were given a head start, "in recognition of our unique bond, especially between border communities," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a July news conference.

But not all border communities and families are rejoicing.

Related: What the US can learn from Canada’s commission on Indigenous residential schools

"My government just apparently doesn't care," said Elizabeth Switzer, a teacher in the Buffalo, New York area, whose Canadian fiancé, Paul Polak, is a PhD student in nearby Hamilton, Ontario.

Switzer is referring to the Biden administration's decision to not reciprocate Canada's easing of restrictions: US ports of entry along the land border remain closed to all but returning Americans and travelers that the government deems essential.

Air travel, meanwhile, is still permitted, much to the confusion of Switzer.

"Paul could fly here, but he'd have to go through, like, three airports. ... How is that safer than him getting in his car and making a 45-minute trip, by himself, as a fully vaccinated Canadian?"

Elizabeth Switzer, teacher, Buffalo, New York area

"Paul could fly here, but he'd have to go through like three airports and spend a few hundred dollars," Switzer said. "How is that safer than him getting in his car and making a 45-minute trip, by himself, as a fully vaccinated Canadian? I mean, I don't understand."

When the US Department of Homeland Security extended its land border shutdown to at least Aug. 21, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas gave no evidence or argument in his order as to why driving would pose a greater risk of transmitting the coronavirus than flying.

Related: ‘Canada Day is a reckoning’: Many cancel celebrations as nation mourns Indigenous unmarked graves

Mayorkas wrote that DHS is "working closely" with Canada to "identify conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably."

But Edward Alden, a professor of US-Canada relations at Western Washington University, hasn't seen much cooperation.

He says the US' decision to not reciprocate is just the latest example of just how tattered the once-amicable bond has become since March 2020: "It's typical with the way the two governments have behaved throughout the pandemic, which is that their border policies have been wholly uncoordinated."

"I think there are people in the Canadian government who feel like they got hung out to dry a bit here, expecting that the Americans would reciprocate."

Edward Alden, professor of US-Canada relations at Western Washington University

"That said, it is somewhat surprising," Alden added. "I think there are people in the Canadian government who feel like they got hung out to dry a bit here, expecting that the Americans would reciprocate."

Alden cautioned that there's no guarantee Canada will stay open for long, especially given the recent rise of the delta variant.

So, at least while he still can, Moat is planning to head north, while still waiting for the day when the US lets his sister drive south.

Related: For the first time, Canada applies terrorism charges to acts of Islamophobia

"Get the border reopened — let people live," Moat said.

He's a bit concerned he might be treated harshly by the Canadians he encounters along the border who are opposed to the reopening. But Moat said that's not going to stop him from seeing his new nephew: "If the border wants to give me crap, I'll take it, because you do anything for family."

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