Closure of the world’s longest undefended border will begin in earnest today as Canada and the United States work out the details of banning non-essential travel between the two countries amid the new coronavirus.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump announced the ban Wednesday, intended to help curtail the rapid spread of COVID-19 without disrupting the flow of essential goods and services on which Canadians and Americans depend.
But details remained to be worked out, including the precise moment the ban is to go formally into effect and how border agents are to distinguish between essential and non-essential travellers.
Some of those details may become clearer today when Trudeau is to speak again outside his door at 11 a.m.
Canadians may also get a clearer sense of how quickly Parliament can approve legislation needed to free up the flow of $82 billion in promised financial aid and tax deferrals to help individuals and businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis, which has shut down much of the country’s normal economic activity.
The government aims to briefly recall Parliament, adjourned last week until April 20, sometime next week.
It is in discussions with opposition parties about how to minimize the number of MPs who will actually need to return to debate and vote on the legislation and how it can be rushed swiftly through both the House of Commons and the Senate, bypassing the usually lengthy legislative process.
Until details are hammered out, the ban on non-essential cross-border travel is bound to create some confusion at border crossings. Freeland made no apologies for that Wednesday.
“We are working right now in an exceptional time. We all understand that,” she told a news conference.
“What that means is as political leaders we need to operate a bit differently. We need to be in a position to take decisions very quickly and we need to be honest and open with Canadians about those decisions.”
Freeland said travel for recreation or tourism are examples of cross-border trips that won’t be allowed.
“The question was what is the precise moment when these instructions will be enforced at the border. The answer is we are still working very energetically with our American colleagues to determine the precise moment when that will be enforced by the hardworking people at the border,” she said.
“Let me be clear. A decision has been taken. It’s been announced by our Prime Minister and by the U.S. president. I would also like to be clear to anyone thinking of making a tourist or recreational trip across the Canadian-U.S. border, please don’t do it. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for your neighbours.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said essential travel across the border “will continue unimpeded.”
That includes truckers bringing food, medical supplies and other essential goods across the border. It also includes Canadians and Americans who cross the border “every day to do essential work and for other urgent or essential reasons,” Blair said, giving the example of health-care workers.
He said international students, workers with visas and temporary foreign workers will continue to be allowed to enter Canada as well but will have to self-isolate themselves for 14 days.