Canadians avoid COVID-19 restrictions by crossing border on foot

May 3, 2021

Canadian are required to follow strict travel requirements due to COVID-19, but not all travelers are following them.

Flying into Canada results in a federal requirement for a three-day stay quarantined in a hotel that can cost up to $2,000 Canadian per person followed by an additional quarantine at home.

Many Canadians have been flying to United States airports and then walking across the border to avoid the quarantine requirement, according to CBC News, which estimated more than 20,000 such crossings since February.

One such couple, Rick and Berni Vernon of Orillia, Ont., were crossing the Rainbow Bridge on foot last Wednesday morning. They traveled from Huatulco, Mexico. They decided to try the U.S. route after their flight home was canceled three times.

“I think the Canadian government is doing it to punish us,” Rick said.

He just retired at age 59 from his overhead door company and spent 11 weeks in Mexico with Berni as a post-retirement celebration.

They left Mexico City at 8 a.m. Tuesday, flying to Atlanta and then Buffalo reaching the border at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“The experience traveling has been phenomenal,” Rick said. “Everyone was so nice. Our government and Prime Minister Trudeau has created a crap show to try and punish Canadians who travel.”

Berni said the couple was antigen tested in Pochutla, Oaxaca, Mexico; then they were tested again in Atlanta and one more time in Buffalo.

Once they crossed into Canada, they expected to be tested again before finally making it home and planning to quarantine for the required 14 days. The Canadian Government’s travel website reports a test is required for Canadians eight days after returning home and in the middle of a 14-day quarantine.

The border has been closed since March 2020 and will remain so through at least May 21. Extended monthly, the international crossing is not expected to reopen until at least this fall.

Credit Pat Bradley / WAMC

Crossborder interests have been calling on the two federal governments to craft a safe reopening plan. Toward that end, officials from the North Country Chamber and the Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce hosted a virtual seminar on expectations for reopening the border.

“Although not everyone will agree on how the U.S.-Canadian border should reopen I think there’s a general consensus that action is needed.," said Bank of Montreal Senior Vice President Rene Douville. "As neighbors Canada and the U.S. have strong economic, social and political ties. So it’s not surprising that people are anxious to see those barriers lifted between our countries.”

“Make no mistake a wall has been placed between us on the border," said North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas. "In the U.S. we’ve heard much over the last four years about a physical wall at the Mexican border. But a wall that is even sturdier and more exclusive in terms of its impact has actually now been placed between the U.S. and Canada that is fundamentally harming the U.S.-Canadian special relationship. And the fact that it has gone on so long has already created lasting damage that we’ll have to work long and hard to repair."

Douglas suggested opening "a few gateways in the wall as a starting point...to find a positive sense that both governments are engaged in finding the way forward.”

“The key is vaccination," said Quebec Premier Jean Charest. "We’re not going to see I think a reopening of the border until we get a level of vaccination on both sides of the border that is fairly high enough."

Charest believes Canadian politics could also play a role in how quickly the border reopens.  

“One of the realities of Canada is that we’re looking at an election campaign in the fall probably," he said. "It’s a minority government. No one’s shared any inside information with me on this, but there’s a high probability of a Canadian election, federal election, in the fall. And that will make it more difficult for Mr. Trudeau to reopen the border. Because until that campaign happens, he may not want to run the risk of creating an issue in the election campaign.”