Symmetry not guaranteed on border policy: envoy

WASHINGTON – Just because Canada and the United States have worked closely to restrict travel across their common border doesn’t mean they would always walk in lock when the time came to reopen, Ottawa’s envoy in said Washington Fr.

WASHINGTON – Just because Canada and the United States have worked closely to restrict travel across their common border doesn’t mean they would always walk in lockstep when the time for reopening came, Ottawa’s envoy in Washington said Friday .

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an “enormous” coordination and exchange of information between the two regarding the border, said Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States

“But coordination doesn’t mean you’re going to do exactly the same thing,” Hillman told a panel discussion at the Wilson Center with interim US colleague Arnold Chacón.

It was Hillman’s first public appearance since the US confirmed on Wednesday that it would maintain its travel restrictions on non-essential visitors from Canada for at least another 30 days.

But her message was the same one she had been sending for weeks: that each country would ultimately make its own decisions.

The U.S. decision to extend travel restrictions came just two days after Ottawa announced that fully vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents would be re-admitted on August 9, with the rest of the world slated to follow suit on September 7.

The restrictions have always varied widely, noted Hillman – Canadian air travelers have always been able to fly to the US, where the bulk of the restrictions are primarily on land crossings, while Canada has restricted all discretionary travel south of the border.

“We both also seek to make decisions based on science and advice from experts – and that is our experts, our science, our experts, our country, what happens for us locally,” she said.

“The US is doing the same thing: they make decisions based on their local situation.”

Chacón, who agreed with Hillman’s assessment of the “excellent” teamwork between the two countries so far, would only say that discussions about the border are ongoing and will continue.

“We continue to review our travel restrictions, and all decisions about reopening travel are led by our public health and medical experts,” said Chacón from Ottawa, reiterating the Biden government’s position.

“We take this very, very seriously. But I think we are in a good place and the development is very promising.”

DHS officials specifically cited the rampant spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 as part of their decision – which includes Mexico – and pledged to keep lines of communication open.

But the apparent divergence has angered US citizens who have waited months for the opportunity to visit Canadian friends, family, and vacation homes, as well as the members of Congress who represent them.

New York MP Elise Stefanik, a Republican, condemned the decision earlier this week as “absolutely and clearly unacceptable.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who led the charges against the restrictions, described himself as “angry” at what he called an “incomprehensible” extension.

Border experts say the delay may be related to reluctance to reopen the US-Mexico border, given the refugee crisis there and fears of political setback if trips from Canada have a head start.

There’s also the added element of whether or not the U.S., where only 57 percent of eligible Americans have had a full COVID-19 vaccine, will make proof of vaccination an entry requirement.

The White House has already made it clear that it does not support vaccination cards in the United States, a country known for its strict adherence to personal freedoms.

John Adams, a Florida resident who owns a vacation home on Vancouver Island, has funded a cross-border television and internet advertising campaign against the two governments over the past few weeks to persuade them to lower the barriers.

His latest campaign-style attack ad, broadcast on Friday, accused Biden of “holding Canadian citizens hostage,” complete with famous pictures of blindfolded prisoners held in Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2021.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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