Canada Border Services Agency employees were still awaiting clarification on Friday about how to implement the vaccination mandate for truck drivers that is set to take effect at the border on Saturday, a union president says.
Mark Weber, national president for the Customs and Immigration Union, said members had been given “clear instructions regarding exemptions” to take effect at the border, but they have not been updated since the confusion earlier this week about whether the vaccination mandate would go ahead.
On Wednesday, the Canada Border Services Agency said Canadian truck drivers would be exempt from the vaccine mandate, but three federal cabinet ministers put out a statement the next afternoon saying that wasn’t the case. They said the information by the CBSA “was provided in error,” but did not explain how the mistake was made.
Neither the CBSA nor the Public Health Agency of Canada has provided additional information beyond the ministerial statement.
New instructions for CBSA employees were not provided by Friday afternoon, Mr. Weber said. The union did not provide further updates on Friday evening.
“This morning, our members were still waiting for new guidance,” he said. “While it is understandable that an ever-evolving situation like a pandemic would result in frequent changes to guidelines, this kind of last-minute flip-flop without clear instructions is problematic for our officers, as they don’t always know where they stand.”
The CIU, which is part of Public Service Alliance of Canada, represents front-line customs and immigration officers.
On Friday, NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach wrote to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, citing the government’s “mishandled communications surrounding the lifting of border exemptions for truck drivers.”
Mr. Bachrach asked the minister to provide information on what steps Transport Canada will take “to prevent similar miscommunication in the future.”
“While New Democrats support strong public health measures including vaccine mandates, we are concerned that the government’s approach has created confusion and cost the industry precious time that could have been better applied to preparing for the upcoming changes,” he wrote.
Mr. Alghabra, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in their statement Thursday that beginning on Saturday, Canadian truckers must be vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and molecular tests. Unvaccinated American big-riggers are to be turned back at the border.
The federal government announced in mid-November that as of Jan. 15, certain categories of travellers who had been exempt from entry requirements would only be allowed to enter the country without quarantine if they are fully vaccinated with one of the shots approved for entry into Canada.
“Let us be clear: This has not changed,” the ministers said Thursday. “The information shared yesterday [Wednesday] was provided in error. Our teams have been in touch with industry representatives to ensure they have the correct information.”
Members of the industry said there was much confusion on Thursday about the federal government’s plan. There is already a lot of concern about the impact of the new mandate, including that it will lead to a shortage of drivers.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance conducted a survey suggesting that 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the 120,000 Canadian drivers crossing the border could leave the industry when the vaccine mandate is introduced. The alliance has said it is not opposed to the mandate, but it has raised concerns about the timing of it and the need to allow for a smooth transition.
Mr. Bachrach’s letter on Friday to Mr. Alghabra noted the global supply chain is under “immense strain,” adding this has increased costs for many Canadians.
“It is imperative that government ensure the continued flow of essential goods, including food and medication, across the Canada-U.S. border,” he wrote. “The confusion surrounding the lifting of border exemptions could not have come at a worse time.”
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