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Why the federal government lets Canadians travel abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic



News reports that many snowbirds are heading south this winter — despite the COVID-19 pandemic — have angered some fellow Canadians who feel they shouldn’t be allowed to go.

“I think this should be absolutely, 100 per cent stopped,” said Barry Tate of Sidney, B.C. “This is a pandemic. This is life and death.”

Tate and his wife, Patti Locke-Lewkowich, usually travel to Mexico for two months each winter. But this year they’re staying home, due to fears of falling ill with COVID-19 while abroad.

“We feel safer at home in the confines of our little home here,” said Locke-Lewkowich.


However, some snowbirds argue they’ll be just as safe down south, because they plan to take all necessary COVID-19-related precautions.


Barry Tate and Patti Locke-Lewkowich of Sidney, B.C. on a past visit to La Manzanilla, Mexico. The couple normally spent two months in Mexco, but won’t be going this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Patti Locke-Lewkowich)


The federal government sides with Locke-Lewkowich, advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel abroad during the pandemic.

But it’s only an advisory, which means Canadians can still freely leave and return to Canada — a decision that’s rooted in Canadians’ constitutional rights.

“It’s always a balance between allowing people to kind of live their lives, and the government attempting to keep health crises under control,” said Kerri Froc, a constitutional law expert.

Please don’t go

In March, the federal government issued its advisory not to travel abroad, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

After the cold weather hit in the fall and some snowbirds started packing their bags, the government doubled down on its messaging.

Last month, it posted an alert on its website, warning seniors to stay home, because their age makes them more vulnerable to falling seriously ill with COVID-19.

This month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland each made a public plea.

“This is not the time for non-essential travel. It’s not a good idea,” said Freeland in French at a news conference on Monday.



Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam talks to The National’s Andrew Chang about the holiday season and getting to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. 6:31

However, Freeland added that the government won’t bar people from leaving. “We will not stop them,” she said in French.

As a result, Canadians are free to travel to countries that have open borders, including the United States which — despite a closed land border — still allows Canadians to fly to the country. 

Meanwhile, some other western nations — such as Australia, France and England — prevent their citizens from travelling abroad for non-essential travel, as part of current lockdown measures to help curb infection rates.

Scotland also bans citizens who live in designated COVID-19 hotspots from travelling outside the country.

“Going on holiday, including abroad, is not a reasonable excuse to leave,” the Scottish government states on its website.

Why doesn’t Canada have a travel ban?

During a government committee meeting on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that the government doesn’t have the authority to prevent Canadians from travelling abroad. “And they have, under the Constitution, a right of return,” he added.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that Canadians have the right to enter and leave the country.


Kerri Froc, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said that Canada must balance its handling of the COVID-19 crisis with Canadians’ constitutional rights.


Froc, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the government could only limit that right for justifiable reasons, and that justifying a travel ban would likely be an uphill battle.

“The court takes a really dim view of absolute bans,” she said. “I’m totally in favour of government taking the COVID crisis seriously, making policy to restrict travel, but they have to do so in a way that pays sufficient respect to people’s constitutional rights.”

What are the risks?

Locke-Lewkowich, who’s staying home this winter, said she accepts that Canadians have the right to travel abroad, but hopes those who do so won’t get government aid if they run into trouble.

“Is Canada going to bail them out with our money?” she said.

When COVID-19 began its global spread in the spring and many flights were cancelled, Global Affairs Canada worked with airlines to fly stranded Canadians home.

But now the government department warns it may not assist Canadian travellers a second time round.

“The Government of Canada is not planning any further facilitated flights to repatriate Canadians and may have limited capacity to offer consular services,” said Global Affairs spokesperson, Christelle Chartrand in an email.

Chartrand advised that, before leaving the country, Canadians verify if their medical insurance covers COVID-19-related illnesses and a possible extended stay abroad.


Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said he advises his snowbird clients not to travel abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Martin Firestone)


Travel insurance broker, Martin Firestone, said if travellers fail to purchase adequate insurance and fall ill, they will be on the hook for the bill — and that includes any medevac charges.

“You aren’t getting medevaced home unless you give them a credit card first and they put it through and then it reads approved,” said Firestone with Travel Secure in Toronto. “To the best of my knowledge, I don’t see it falling back on the taxpayer.”

Despite the risks, many snowbirds still plan on heading south; Firestone said that around 40 per cent of his 1,000 snowbird clients have already booked their trips.

“That’s with me telling them not to go,” said Firestone who advises his clients not to travel during the pandemic.

“Even as good as you protect yourself, you still can’t protect yourself against [the] total unknown.”

Canadian travellers returning home must quarantine for 14 days. Freeland said that the rule will continue to be “very strictly enforced.”


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4.2-magnitude earthquake near Buffalo, N.Y., felt in southern Ontario



An earthquake near Buffalo, N.Y., with a preliminary magnitude of 4.2, was “lightly felt” in parts of southern Ontario Monday morning, according to Earthquakes Canada.

“I woke up to it,” St. Catharines, Ont. resident Stephen Murdoch told CBC Hamilton.

Murdoch said his house shook around 6:15 a.m. ET.

“I felt what I guess you would consider a small jolt and continuous shaking …. about 15 to 20 seconds,” he said.


The federal agency says it doesn’t expect any damage would come from the reported earthquake, but said as of roughly 8 a.m., there were more than 200 reports of people in southern Ontario feeling the rumble, including in Hamilton, the Greater Toronto Area and as far as Quinte West, Ont., near Belleville.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. says the earthquake occurred in West Seneca, N.Y. and labelled it a 3.8-magnitude quake some three kilometres beneath the surface.

Musician Rich Jones said he felt the rumble in Hamilton.

“My dog started barking and the bed was shaking for a few seconds. Never felt an earthquake here before. Wild,” Jones tweeted.

Earthquakes Canada last recorded an earthquake in Ontario in the Greater Sudbury area on Jan. 22, measuring 2.8 magnitude.

Earthquakes are generally caused by large segments of the earth’s crust, called tectonic plates, continuously shifting, according to Earthquakes Canada.

The Southern Great Lakes Seismic Zone has a low to moderate amount of seismicity when compared to the more active seismic zones to the east, along the Ottawa River and in Quebec.

“It’s an incredible event to live through … I can’t imagine the ones of greater magnitude,” Murdoch said.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of discussion at water coolers across Buffalo and southern Ontario in terms of what happened this morning.”


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Uber brings back ride share for Canada



Uber has brought back its ride-sharing option in select Canadian cities — but under a new name. Officially launched this week, the company is calling UberX Share, its “most affordable option” for commuters who want to make “greener” and more “sustainable” choices.

Available across Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, the UberX Share will allow passengers to travel together and split their fares.

Previously known as UberPOOL, the service was paused in Toronto in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Uber said it’s been “working tirelessly to revamp the experience.”

“We know affordability plays a role when people are making decisions on how to get from point A to B,” said Michael van Hemmen, general manager of Uber Canada mobility, in a statement Sunday.


“This new shared rides option will provide a more affordable and sustainable experience for riders and the cities we serve.”

How is UberX different than UberPOOL?

In the past, UberPOOL was known to sometime deviate from a direct route and take more time than public transit, but the company now argues the new feature will only add an average of six minutes to a trip when matched.

Riders will also receive an upfront discount of up to 20 per cent if they choose UberX Share.

“UberX Share provides a greener way to get from A to B, by moving more people with fewer cars to help your city avoid extra emissions and car travel by sharing your ride,” Uber said.

Click to play video: 'UberEats indulges in high times, will make cannabis deliveries'

UberEats indulges in high times, will make cannabis deliveries

When it comes to the drivers, the company says UberX Share will give them more choices while earning the same recommended rates with UberX Share as they would with UberX but with more riders on a trip.

“A shared trip is likely to be longer and that means a higher fare. There will be a $1 pickup incentive for the driver when picking up a second rider,” Uber added.


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Undefeated Quebec teenage boxer gets set for Canada Games



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