U.S.-Canada border reopening to offer some relief for separated families

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Frosty or friendly: Have Canada-U.S. relations been strained during the pandemic?
WATCH: As border regulations and travel rules for vaccinated Canadians travelling to the United States begin to ease, some wonder whether the dragged-out process is a signal that relations between the two countries are not altogether rosy. From quarrels over pipelines to concerns around cross-border trade, Mike Le Couteur looks at whether Canada is still on best terms with its closest neighbour – Oct 16, 2021

The decision by the United States to soon reopen its border with Canada for fully-vaccinated travellers is set to offer some relief to people with family or partners on the opposite side of the border, but one advocacy group says more needs to be done to help those who remain separated.

Shannon Allen has spent most of the 19 months since the pandemic began at home in Scarborough, Ont., in Toronto’s east end.

With the U.S.-Canada land border closed to non-essential travel since March 2020, visits with her American partner, William Newton, were infrequent.

“I had a breakdown in a grocery store parking lot one day because I felt like I didn’t have control of any aspect of my life,” she said, standing in Toronto’s Canoe Landing Park with her dog, Bailey.

The recent death of her mother to a non-COVID-19 illness, and the loss of her long-term job, she said amplified that emotion.

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“When you feel like all of the things you’ve been working toward can be taken away taken away from you so easily, how do you find that motivation to get up and keep pushing?” she asked, wiping away tears.

Read more: ‘Rules are the rules’: Freeland mum on removing PCR testing for Canada border

Speaking by Zoom from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio, Newton said it was difficult not to be able to directly comfort his partner.

“I couldn’t be there to support her and it was really rough on me,” he said.

The White House confirmed to Global News on Friday it would reopen its land borders to fully-vaccinated leisure travellers from Canada and Mexico as of Nov. 8, following a similar move by Canada for U.S. travellers that went into effect in August.

The development, Newton said, gives him some relief.

“It’s nice knowing that we can meet in Detroit for dinner,” he added.

While the reopening of the land border is likely to benefit families and partners separated between the two countries, David Edward-Ooi Poon, the founder of the family reunification group Faces of Advocacy, said other issues remain.

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“In terms of the COVID-related family separations, we are soon nearing the end of that stage, however this does not mean it’s the end of family separations.

Poon pointed to problems that can arise at the border, such as with guards who may not fully understand the rules that determine who is fully vaccinated and therefore admissible.

Read more: Canada-U.S. land borders will open in November. Here’s what we know

The pandemic has shone a light on the bureaucracy and other issues related to family unification that have existed for years but have only recently been felt by North Americans, Poon explained, calling on an ombudsperson to be appointed to oversee the matter.

“This has just highlighted, like many things with COVID, systemic inequities and problems that have been long-lasting.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Disease Control clarified late Friday that mixed doses of vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization would be accepted for international travellers.

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