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Lack of clarity on vaccine rules at U.S. border leaves trucking industry idling

Click to play video: 'Ottawa backs down on a vaccine mandate for truckers'
Ottawa backs down on a vaccine mandate for truckers
The federal government has put the brakes on a plan to make it mandatory for all truckers coming into Canada to be vaccinated. Stephen Laskowski with the Canadian Trucking Alliance discusses the latest developments. – Jan 13, 2022

Canada’s trucking industry is stuck in neutral Thursday awaiting confirmation about a possible change to vaccination requirements at the U.S. border after a late-night statement from the government appeared to reverse course on the upcoming deadline.

The industry had been gearing up for a mandate from Ottawa that, as of Saturday, all truckers crossing the border back into Canada must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

That move would’ve affected Canadian and U.S. drivers alike: estimates are that 10 to 15 per cent of operators are not fully vaccinated, potentially sidelining roughly 16,000 drivers key to the cross-border supply chain.

But a statement from the Canada Border Services Agency on Wednesday evening appeared to change course on that, signalling that the vaccine requirement will only apply to foreign nationals entering the country, not Canadians.

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Ottawa has not provided any additional announcement or details short of the statement provided to media Wednesday night, even to members of the trucking industry itself.

“We have yet to receive official clarification on last evening’s announcement,” Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, told Global News on Thursday.

While representatives of the trucking industry had lobbied previously for the deadline to be pushed back, as recently as Wednesday afternoon, CTA officials had been talking to officials in Ottawa about how to smoothly enact the mandate without slowing traffic at the border. There was no indication at that time about a change to the substance of the mandate, Laskoswki said.

He is expecting a briefing from government officials sometime Thursday afternoon to provide clarity on the change in policy.

Global News has reached out to numerous government officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada, CBSA and Public Safety Canada asking for details, but has not yet received comment.

Laskowski says that even if the policy plays out exactly as described in the late-night statement, the impending impacts on Canada’s supply chain will not be averted.

Click to play video: 'Truckers cry foul over coming Port of Vancouver restrictions'
Truckers cry foul over coming Port of Vancouver restrictions

“If the intention is, as announced last evening, that this will apply only to foreign nationals on January the 15th, the issue still remains the same because a week later the Americans will apply the same type of rule on Canadian trucking companies,” he said.

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The U.S. government has indeed signalled it will place a vaccination requirement on essential workers, including truckers, crossing the border into the States as of Jan. 22.

Global News has reached out to U.S. border officials for comment on the change in plans and whether they still intended to enact a similar mandate.

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“Really what has to happen for relief in the supply chain is both Ottawa and Washington need to move simultaneously, lifting their foreign national requirement because without that, we suffer from the same issues that we were talking about the day before,” Laskowski said.

Bob Costello, the chief economist and senior vice-president at the American Trucking Associations, also told Global News that the apparent shift in Canada’s policy would have “very limited impact” once the proposed U.S. mandate goes into effect.

“Canada’s rules will prevent U.S. drivers from entering Canada, and our proposed rules will prevent unvaccinated Canadians from entering the U.S.,” he said in a statement.

“While we fully expect both countries’ restrictions to go into effect, we continue to urge leaders in Ottawa and Washington to reconsider these mandates so we can avoid any further economic disruptions,” Costello added.

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Asked Tuesday about the possible impact of the vaccination mandate on Canada’s trucking industry and the economy, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra said vaccinations were the “best way” to keep workers safe in sectors like transportation that are critical to the supply chain.

That spokesperson said the public health and safety agencies were now leading the file as of Thursday.

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