Canadian Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair said Tuesday that in an attempt to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, those crossing the border irregularly will still be allowed into Canada, but will be subject to medical screening and housed in quarantine when necessary.
Speaking at a press conference, Blair told reporters that those found crossing the border would be immediately taken into custody, and undergo a 24-hour screening process.
Between October and December of 2019, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) said there was an intake of 4,097 refugee claims from people attempting to cross into Canada irregularly.
Irregular border crossers are defined by the government as individuals who entered Canada between official ports of entry.
Under normal circumstances, they are referred to the IRB’s Refugee Protection Division after Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) or the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) makes a decision on whether or not they’re eligible for refugee status.
Peter MacKay, a Conservative Party leader contender, took to Twitter to criticize the move.
He retweeted a post by Toronto Sun political columnist Brian Lilley, who accused the federal government of remaining open to “anyone who can get there,” despite recent travel restrictions introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Instead of turning people away, we’re letting them in and paying for their health care and quarantine,” he said. “There are concerns about having enough equipment just for our own citizens.”
He added: “This needs to stop now.”
On Monday, Trudeau announced sweeping travel restrictions that barred most foreign travellers, with small exceptions that included U.S. citizens, from entering the country.
Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed into the country, he said.
Referring to those measures, Blair said: “Canadians will always be allowed to return to Canada.”
He added that any Canadian citizen that exhibited symptoms at a port of entry will be referred to a Public Health quarantine officer for examination, but will not be turned away.
At all Canadian airports, land rails and ferries, however, Blair said there would “increased operational posture” from CBSA agents.
Blair said anybody attempting to cross the border through those avenues will be asked “do you currently have a cough, difficulty breathing or a fever?” and to acknowledge that they have been asked to self isolate for 14 days.
“Officers are on the lookout for anyone who looks sick or is showing symptoms and those will be reported to authorities,” said Blair, who added travellers would also be given informational leaflets upon arrival.
“Masks will be delivered to high-risk travellers.”
By Tuesday afternoon, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said that Canada had confirmed 440 cases of COVID-19. She said four people have died from the virus.
This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.