The federal government may mobilize the armed forces to help implement its new COVID-19 testing rules across Canada’s border with the United States.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government announced new rules that will require non-essential travellers crossing into Canada by land to get tested at the border, starting on Feb. 22. The military’s possible role in the effort was not mentioned at his news conference or a subsequent one with cabinet ministers, including Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
By March 4, the federal government will have testing sites set up at 16 of the country’s busiest land-border crossings. The forces may be called on to help with the effort, and members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) at CFB Petawawa have already been told to prepare, according to one source with direct knowledge.
If the military does become involved, a separate federal government source said, the forces would play a behind-the-scenes role and wouldn’t be interacting with people as they cross the border, including at the testing sites or in directing people to quarantine facilities.
The Globe and Mail is not revealing the names of the confidential sources in this story because they were not permitted to disclose the private deliberations.
“The Public Health Agency of Canada, in co-operation with the Government Operations Centre and the Canadian Armed Forces have been discussing whether the CAF may be able to assist in the planning, logistics, and deployment of facilities to support PHAC as it begins to undertake testing of travellers at 16 land points of entry,” James Cudmore, a spokesperson for Mr. Blair said on Friday.
“These discussions are ongoing and no decision has been taken at this time.”
The forces have already been tapped to work on the federal government’s vaccination campaign.
One source said Mr. Blair would have to approve a formal request for the forces to help the public health agency with the logistics and a formal request has not yet been made. The source said the Red Cross may also be involved in the effort at the border.
The source said the forces may be called on to advise on the set-up of new testing sites and could also play a role in delivering equipment.
Non-essential travellers entering Canada at its land borders will have to start showing a negative COVID-19 test as of Feb. 15. Mr. Blair said those who don’t present a negative test can face a fine of up to $3,000, and may be sent to a designated quarantine facility.
Testing for non-essential travellers crossing the border will be implemented on Feb. 22 at five crossings: Douglas, B.C.; Coutts, Alta.; the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.; Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle (Highway 15), Que.; and the St. Stephen 3rd Bridge in New Brunswick.
As of March 4, testing sites will also be set up at the Detroit-Windsor Ambassador Bridge and tunnel crossings in Ontario; the Blue Water Bridge in Point Edward, Ont.; Emerson West Lynne, Man.; the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont.; Huntingdon, B.C.; the Thousand Islands Bridge in Lansdowne, Ont.; B.C.’s Pacific Highway; the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Ont.; St-Armand, Que.; and Stanstead (Route 55), Que.
According to a news release, Ottawa will supply all other ports of entry with test kits for travellers. All non-essential travellers crossing at land borders are also required to quarantine for 14 days.