Truck drivers crossing into Canada from the United States will indeed need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 starting Saturday, despite a statement sent “in error” from the Canada Border Services Agency late Wednesday appearing to reverse course on the mandate.
“On November 19, 2021, we announced that as of January 15, 2022, certain categories of travellers who are currently exempt from entry requirements, will only be allowed to enter the country if they are fully vaccinated with one of the vaccines approved for entry into Canada,” read a joint statement from the federal ministers of health, transport and public safety released just before 5 p.m. on Thursday.
“These groups include several essential service providers, including truck drivers. Let us be clear: This has not changed. The information shared yesterday was provided in error. Our teams have been in touch with industry representatives to ensure they have the correct information.”
The North American trucking industry had been gearing up for Saturday’s deadline, at which point all truck drivers crossing into Canada would need to be fully vaccinated to avoid isolation and testing requirements.
The U.S. has planned a similar mandate to go into effect for any driver crossing into the States as of Jan. 22.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance says 10 to 15 per cent of drivers in the industry are currently unvaccinated. The mandate would therefore take an estimated 12,000 Canadian truckers and thousands more from the U.S. off cross-border shipping routes, a sharp reduction in available workers for an industry already facing a labour shortage and supply chain constraints.
While industry representatives had tried to convince officials in both Canada and the United States to push back the vaccination deadline, CTA president Stephen Laskowski told Global News on Thursday that the industry was not expecting any changes to the policy ahead of Saturday and was seeking clarity on how the policy would be enforced.
Instead, the situation only became hazier on Wednesday evening, when a CBSA spokesperson told media in a statement that Canadian truckers would be exempt from the vaccination requirements to return to the country.
The rules would still apply to any foreign nationals crossing the border, however, and there was no indication from U.S. border officials that their policy was shifting.
Laskowski said the CTA hadn’t heard any information directly from the government as of noon on Thursday about the possible new direction.
A statement was finally released almost 24 hours after the initial error was sent on Thursday indicating that there were in fact no changes coming to the vaccination mandate at the border.
“As of January 15, 2022, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated foreign national truck drivers, coming to Canada from the U.S. by land, will be directed back to the United States,” Ottawa’s statement read.
It clarified that to be considered “fully vaccinated,” truck drivers must be 14 days removed from their second dose of accepted vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson formulation.
Laskowski told Global News before the correction was made that any exemption for Canadian drivers would not avert further supply chain snags unless the U.S. also backed down on its mandate.
“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.
His counterparts in the U.S. trucking association agreed.
“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,” Bob Costello, the American Trucking Associations’ chief economist, said in a statement to Global News.
More than two-thirds of the $650 billion in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads.
— with files from Global’s Abigail Bimman and Crystal Oag