Mia Rabson and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, September 22, 2022 3:29 PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, September 22, 2022 6:58 PM EDT
OTTAWA – The last of Canada’s COVID-19 border restrictions will disappear at the end of this month with the expiration of a ministerial order affecting mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine of international travelers.
This expiration also means the end of insisting that travelers use the ArriveCan app to enter their vaccine status and test results, although the app will live on as an optional tool for Customs and Immigration.
It is not yet about whether passengers must wear masks on domestic and international trains and planes because that rule is contained in a separate order issued by the transport minister.
Two senior government sources aware of the decision confirmed that the Cabinet Order maintaining COVID-19 border measures will not be renewed when it expires on September 30.
The sources spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. While the Liberal cabinet met on Thursday afternoon, government approval is not required to allow the order to expire.
One of the sources said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, before the cabinet meeting took place, signed off on the decision not to renew the rules.
The change means that international travelers will no longer have to prove that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Under the current rule, Canadians returning to the country who are not vaccinated must show a negative COVID-19 test result before they arrive and undergo additional testing after arrival. They must also be quarantined for 14 days.
Foreign nationals who are not vaccinated are simply banned from Canada unless they fall into specific categories, such as airline or boat crew members, those requiring essential medical treatment, diplomats and temporary foreign workers.
The Cabinet Order also clarifies that vaccinated travelers will be selected for random COVID-19 testing, and requires travelers to submit their vaccine proof and test results electronically.
The only way to do that is through the ArriveCan app.
It all ends when the clock strikes midnight on October 1st.
Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault would not confirm the decision Thursday afternoon, but he said if the order is allowed to expire, it would also remove the only mandatory component of the ArriveCan app.
“So the mandatory piece is the vaccine piece, and because that’s how people prove it through ArriveCan, that’s how the order is written, as I recall,” he said heading into the cabinet meeting.
ArriveCan has become a digitized border arrival tool, and now people flying into certain airports can use it to complete their customs and immigration form instead of the paper version.
Boissonnault said it is in line with the digitization of border forms in a number of countries, including Europe, and in the long term will provide faster and smoother border experiences.
“If we want to go from 22 million visitors in 2019 to something closer to 30 million in 2030, we will have to have a digital frontier,” he said.
The expiration of the order also means that the Minister of Health will no longer be able to quickly prevent citizens of specific countries facing COVID-19 outbreaks from coming to Canada. This measure was used to ban people from India and certain African countries at various points, moves criticized by some as racist.
Canada’s COVID-19 border measures have been evolving since the pandemic began in March 2020.
For more than a year, Canada invoked a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all returning Canadians, and for a time required the quarantine to be completed in whole or in part at specific hotels.
Between March 2020 and August 2021, foreign nationals could not enter Canada during the period, with some exceptions for critical workers, including airline crew, healthcare workers and truck drivers.
In July 2021, when all Canadian adults and teenagers could access vaccines, the government stopped requiring quarantine for fully vaccinated Canadian travelers.
In August 2021, they opened the border to fully vaccinated Americans, and in September 2021, the border was opened to fully vaccinated citizens from all countries.
Border measures have become highly politicized, with the Conservatives demanding that Trudeau lift them all and leader Pierre Poilievre making ending them a key policy of his latest leadership campaign.
Deputy Conservative leader Melissa Lantsman and the party’s Quebec lieutenant, Pierre Paul-Hus, said in a joint statement Wednesday that it was convenient to end the measures within weeks of Poilievre winning the leadership.
“Ever since it was introduced, the ArriveCan app has killed jobs, stifled economies across the country and told visitors they were not welcome in Canada,” they said. “Along with unscientific vaccine mandates and mandatory random testing, ArriveCan created the longest delays ever seen at Canada’s airports.”
Delays at airports were partly blamed on ArriveCan, as some travelers who struggled to make it work or couldn’t or wouldn’t use it backed up lines. However, the delays have also been blamed on labor shortages affecting everything from airport workers to security and border guards.
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist, has argued for months against mandatory vaccinations and testing at the border. In an interview Thursday, he said testing asymptomatic travelers at the border is expensive and not as useful as testing symptomatic people in the community.
He said without testing everyone, the policy will not prevent further spread of COVID-19.
The government had long pointed to the random testing as a way to screen for the arrival of new variants, but Chagla said there are also better and more convenient ways to look for them.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 22, 2022.