Air passengers entering Canada will soon need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in the country, the federal government announced today.
Under the new protocol, travellers must receive a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within a 72-hour period prior to boarding a plane. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said he expects the new rule will be in force within a week.
The measure does not replace the federal government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair warned.
“This is not an alternative to quarantine. It’s an additional layer,” Blair said during a public health briefing.
He said Ottawa is discussing implementing more testing protocols at land points of entry with a number of provincial health authorities, but added that effort involves “issues of some complexity” the government is still working through.
The federal government hasn’t fully explained how the pre-boarding testing will be administered to incoming travellers, though Transport Minister Marc Garneau — who is in talks with airlines and officials in his department — is expected to share more details Thursday.
WATCH | Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on new COVID-19 measures for air travel:
Lack of information ‘causing panic,’ Conservatives say
Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner criticized the Liberal government over the timing of the announcement and said the lack of policy specifics will lead to anxiety and confusion for Canadians abroad.
“I’m glad to hear that the Trudeau Liberals are finally taking our advice and looking at implementing testing protocols for international travellers returning to Canada,” she said in a media statement.
“However, the lack of details around this announcement is causing panic among Canadians currently abroad. The government has had months to implement a system and today put forward a haphazard announcement that is a response to headlines rather than an actual thoughtful and transparent plan.”
Where can Canadians currently abroad get information on this new requirement? Will the federal government be providing a portal or will this responsibility also be downloaded onto already strapped airlines?
A spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, said the provincial government is pleased the federal government responded to Ford’s “ongoing calls for the federal government to take action at our borders.”
“This is welcome news,” said Ivana Yelich. “We look forward to seeing further progress by the federal government when it comes to getting pre-departure testing in place at Toronto Pearson International Airport.”
In response to Wednesday’s news, the National Airlines Council of Canada said the country’s aviation industry has been calling for a more coordinated testing approach “to avoid a rushed and disjointed rollout” of testing requirements.
“Today’s announcement occurred without prior coordination with industry, and with many major operational and communication details still to be determined,” council president Mike McNaney said in a media statement.
“At a broader level, the announcement only addresses one element of the path forward — the utilization of testing to help further protect public health. We strongly believe it must also be utilized in conjunction with measures to reduce quarantine levels, as is being done in countries all around the world.”
An industry source — who spoke to CBC News on the condition of confidentiality — said the airlines were “totally blindsided by the announcement.”
“Airlines were not consulted,” said the source. “It was clear to them that the government had not studied whether or not PCR tests are even available and what the rules would be around who should be denied boarding.”
Blair underlined that the point of the new requirement is not to shorten quarantine times and said it’s “important not to conflate the two issues.”
Travellers unable to get tested won’t be left behind
In an interview with CBC News, LeBlanc said it will be up to travellers to arrange for PCR tests themselves, given that those embarking on non-essential trips overseas have chosen already to flout public health guidelines.
“The Government of Canada obviously is not in a position to set up in hotels or all-inclusive resorts or Canadian consulates,” he said.
Travellers who are unable to procure tests before their flights home won’t be stranded abroad, LeBlanc said. Immediately upon their return to Canada, he said, those passengers will be required to isolate at federally-approved sites until they obtain negative test results and meet other quarantine commitments.
The minister said it would be “irresponsible” for any Canadian traveller to sidestep the testing requirements.
He added that pre-boarding testing would not affect Alberta’s ongoing pilot project for international travellers, which allows people to leave quarantine if they receive a negative test after returning to Canada.
Border agency boosts airport presence
The additional measure comes as Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips is under fire over news that he had travelled to the Caribbean island of St. Barts for a personal vacation earlier this month. Phillips is on his way back to Canada after Ontario Premier Doug Ford demanded his return.
Quebec Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand has also received criticism for visiting Barbados during the holidays, a trip Arcand now says he regrets.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will also be beefing up its presence at airports across Canada to ensure travellers are adhering to public health guidelines, Blair said.
“Additional border officers will be present at various positions to reinforce compliance messaging,” the minister said, adding that teams already have been sent to customs and baggage areas and inspection lines to speak to travellers about their obligations — and the consequences of failing to follow the rules.
The federal government has advised against non-essential travel outside Canada since the start of the pandemic, though officials noted Wednesday that about two per cent of COVID-19 cases have been brought into the country from overseas.
Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.
Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.
“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.
Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”
In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.
Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.
“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.
Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis
More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.
The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.
But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”
At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.
Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.
“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.
In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.
($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)
Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants
Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.
Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.
“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.
Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.
Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.
“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)