Confusion abounds after U.S. border agency bars entry to Canadians looking to get vaccinated
TORONTO -- Canadians hoping to cross the border for the sole purpose of getting a COVID-19 vaccine will be turned away, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday, a CBP spokesperson said the Canadian-U.S. border remains restricted to “essential travel” only in accordance with the travel restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.
“Travel for the sole purpose of obtaining a vaccination is not permissible under current travel restrictions,” they said.
However, the spokesperson added that if the person enters the U.S. for “legitimate travel reasons,” and they receive a vaccine incidental to their trip, “it is not part of the overall admissibility determination.”
The U.S. border agency’s position has created confusion for Canadians who thought they would be allowed to cross the border by land to obtain a vaccine after the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said it may be considered an “essential medical service,” under certain conditions, and therefore the traveller would be exempt from quarantining for 14 days upon their return to Canada.
Those conditions include written evidence from a licensed health-care provider in Canada indicating that medical services or treatments outside Canada are essential and written proof from a licensed health-care practitioner in the U.S. that the services were provided. The traveller would also have to travel in a private vehicle, with only one other support person, and would not be allowed to make any other stops during the trip.
“Canadian border services officers do not have discretion to provide an exemption to travellers from quarantine. The onus is on the traveller to clearly demonstrate they meet an exemption under the Order in Council (Quarantine, Isolation and Other Obligations),” PHAC told David Musyj, president and CEO of Windsor Regional Hospital in Windsor, Ont., on Monday in an email exchange that was later shared with CTVNews.ca.
Musyj had been pressing the health agency to provide clarification on whether Canadians who live near the American border would be able to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine if they travelled to the U.S. with the sole purpose of obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine.
When asked about the quarantine exemptions, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said they work in close co-operation to “implement and operationalize” the measures PHAC recommends to them.
“Canadian residents returning to Canada after receiving essential medical services in the United States may be exempt from COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements if they have a note from a Canadian licensed health care practitioner indicating the service abroad was essential and a note from a U.S. licensed health care practitioner indicating the resident received the service,” the spokesperson said in an email to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.
The CBSA spokesperson also reiterated that their officers do not have the discretion to exempt travellers from quarantine based on an assumed level of risk the traveller poses or any other factor.
“The onus is on the traveller to clearly demonstrate they meet an exemption as prescribed in the Order,” the statement said.
After reading about PHAC’s statement in the news, Shaun Horton attempted to cross the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Ont. on Wednesday morning for a vaccination appointment he had booked online at a pharmacy in New York.
The 42-year-old airline pilot, who lives in Georgetown, Ont., said he obtained referral from his doctor for the vaccine before he drove to the border.
“As a pilot, we can't wear masks in the flight deck and we can't socially distance. So I thought for my safety, the quicker way to full vaccination was to do this avenue,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Horton said he even called the CBSA on Tuesday to confirm that he had the right documentation before he travelled to the border.
However, when he arrived, Horton said, an American CBP agent told him the border was closed for essential travel only and that getting a vaccine is not essential.
“He then advised that the reason why it's not essential is Canada actually has vaccines now, regardless of the supply issues, because Canada has a vaccine, they said that it is not an essential reason,” he recalled. “They didn't even want to see the medical note.”
In a statement sent to CTVNews.ca late Wednesday, a spokesperson for PHAC clarified that the provision outlining testing and quarantine exemptions for travellers returning to Canada after receiving medical services in a foreign country was “not intended to be used for those seeking to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.”
The health agency continued: “This provision is in place to allow Canadians who are seeking life-saving medical treatment outside of Canada.”
PHAC added that the CBP is responsible for determining if a Canadian citizen is eligible to cross the border and enter the U.S.
The spokesperson said PHAC will be “clarifying the intent of this provision imminently including to medical professional associations and on its website.”
The statement concluded with a link to a government site with information about the country’s COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries.
“Note that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in Canada," the spokesperson wrote.