The Liberal government is relaxing measures at the Canada-U.S. border to allow extended family members, committed couples and international students to enter the country.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said beginning Oct. 8, extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents can enter the country, including grandparents, children, siblings and people who have been in an exclusive relationship for a year.
Couples are required to provide a notarized declaration to prove they have been in a relationship for at least a year and have spent some time in the physical presence of one another.
Mr. Mendicino stressed that travellers should not make any travel plans until they have received necessary prearrival authorization from the government.
“While our government took steps in June to help more families to be together, we know in some cases people still haven’t been able to be with the ones they love. I know that for them, the waiting and uncertainty has not been easy,” Mr. Mendicino said in Ottawa on Friday.
In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced immediate family members of Canadian citizens or permanent residents could enter Canada, but stopped short at allowing couples and extended family to cross the border.
The government first restricted all non-essential travel across the border on Mar. 21 for 30 days in an effort to stem the transmission of COVID-19. The restriction has repeatedly been extended, most recently until Oct. 21.
Mr. Mendicino said the government is also introducing a process to allow foreign nationals who do not qualify as extended family or who are in a relationship to enter the country for compassionate reasons.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who took part in the news conference via video, said the program will apply to specific and limited situations, such as people who want to say goodbye to someone who is dying, provide care for someone who needs medical support or attend a funeral.
It will also be possible, she said, for people entering or returning to Canada on compassionate grounds to request a limited release from the mandatory two-week quarantine in specific situations, such as attending a funeral.
The government also announced it will allow international students to enter Canada who are attending a school that has been approved by its provincial or territorial government by having a COVID-19 readiness plan. This measure comes into effect Oct. 20.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who appeared by video, said the full range of screening and security measures will remain in place for all travellers, including the mandatory 14-day quarantine. He said the government is increasing the federal public health presence at 36 ports of entry that account for 90 per cent of traffic into Canada during normal operations. It is also increasing the use of digital processes to share information with provinces and territories, and ramping up efforts to monitor and enforce the mandatory quarantine order.
The Conservative Party and the NDP welcomed Friday’s announcement, but both criticized the government for taking so long, pointing out that they have been urging the government to reunite families and loved ones for months.
Conservative MP and immigration critic Raquel Dancho said the changes are a “welcome relief” for many Canadians and their loved ones, but also too late for some families.
“There are heartbreaking stories of Canadians fighting and dying of terminal illnesses that have been denied the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. This is shameful and unacceptable,” she said.
NDP public safety critic Jack Harris said his party has been calling on the Liberal government for months to fix cross-border travel restrictions so extended family members and committed couples can reunite, as well as to allow for compassionate visits in special circumstances.
“While we are very glad to see the Liberals finally take action, this should have and could have happened months ago. There appears to be no reason why this took so long,” he said.
Mr. Harris said families and couples have endured unnecessary hardship by being separated from their loved ones during a challenging time. It has been especially difficult, he added, for those who are sick or had family members die without loved ones beside them.
When asked why it took months to bring in these measures, Mr. Mendicino said the government “took the time that was necessary” to put them in place, including consulting with provincial partners to ensure they were on board.
“It’s clear from the worldwide growth of COVID-19 that this disease is not going away any time soon, and countries will be struggling for a very long time,” Ms. Hajdu added. “And this government believes firmly in compassion.”
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