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Americans and Canadians steaming, as Ottawa extends border closing to July 21

A view of the Peace Bridge from the pedestrian walkway
Michael Mroziak
The Peace Bridge has been closed to non-essential cross-border travel since March 2020.

As COVID-19 case counts eased and vaccination rates have increased, there have been growing calls on the Canadian government to reopen the border. Business leaders and politicians on both sides of the border are demanding a reopening plan, while the tourism industry says it is on life support.

However, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has again made it clear there will be no early reopening of the Canada-U.S. border because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The longest undefended border in the world has been closed since the middle of March 2020 over fears of the spread of COVID-19. It has remained open only for the flow of trade and commerce and for healthcare workers who live in one country and work in the other.

Ottawa has extended the closure monthly, as it monitors the pandemic. Trudeau’s latest extension is now until July 21.

‘We’re still seeing cases across the country and we want to get them down," he said. "At the same time, we also know we have to hit our targets of 75% vaccinated with a first dose, at least 20% vaccinated with the second dose, before we can start loosening things up."

An ad campaign aimed at Ottawa recently aired in both countries.

“Because the border is still closed, I lost my job."

"Prime Minister Trudeau, you promised enough vaccine to keep us safe. That wasn’t true. Don’t punish us for your mistake.”

That campaign was the brainchild of John Adams. He lives in Florida, but owns a property in British Columbia he hasn’t been able to visit for more than a year.

"President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau kickin' the can down the road for 14 months.," Adams said. "We’re not kickin' this can any further down the road, 'cause you can keep on kickin' it forever. You’re gonna have to change your game.”

Since the original closure, thousands of Americans have tried to cross the border for non-essential reasons: tourism, entertainment or just to visit family or their property. They were turned back. Some officials said families have been torn apart by the closure for a year and a half and are hurting.

Beth Potter is the with the tourism industry association of Canada.

"Our industry prior to COVID brought in $105 billion a year towards the Canadian economy. We employed 1.8 million Canadians," Potter said, "and since the pandemic hit, we have seen those numbers drastically."

Buffalo Rep. Brian Higgins said Washington should act unilaterally and open the border.

"The vaccines that have been approved are deemed to be highly effective. Some 85%, some 90, some 95%," Higgins said. "But that is an extraordinary level of potency that nobody anticipated. It needs to be recognized because that’s the science. That’s the data. Those are the facts.”

Tom Mulcair, the former leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada, said it is about time to sit down with the Americans and figure out a way to open the border.

"We’re opening everything else up in the next month or so. I do think that this should be the last renewal that we’ve just done of the closed border. And it really is time to start opening up, because that makes no sense to the average Canadian,” Mulcair said.

Nick Nanos, a Canadian public opinion pollster, said most Canadians want to see border restrictions lifted this year.

“About 73% or almost three out every four Canadians want or hope to see a full reopening of the border by the fall," Nanos said. "And it looks like people want to plan their vacations to see their friends, to shop, all that kind of stuff.”

There has been some easing of restrictions. Fully vaccinated Canadian residents have been allowed to return without having to go into quarantine, but that doesn’t apply to Americans who want to come to Canada.

So the question put to Trudeau at a news conference last week was, why not allow non-essential travel across the border for Americans and other foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated?

“I can tell you right now, that’s not going to happen for a while," Trudeau said. "We need to continue to insure that the safety of Canadians, that all the sacrifices that so many people have made over the past many, many months, are not for nothing. We’re not going to jeopardize that by moving too quickly.”

Trudeau said his government will open the border, but it will be done carefully and cautiously ensuring the ongoing safety of all Canadians.

WBFO’s comprehensive news coverage extends into Southern Ontario and Dan Karpenchuk is the station’s voice from the north. The award-winning reporter covers binational issues, including economic trends, the environment, tourism and transportation.