A top U.S. Democrat is calling on Canadian and U.S. officials to release their plans to safely reopen the border to non-essential travel after more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns.
In a letter released on Wednesday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a “transparent, bilateral, and public plan” based on public health data and guidance, with specific standards, protocols, and metrics for reopening the border, to be released as soon as possible.
“Due to the rising rates of vaccinated Americans and the subsequent decline in cases in New York and elsewhere, it has become abundantly clear that an agreement can and should be reached to safely accommodate the border communities without compromising the fight against COVID-19,” reads the letter, addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“A bi-national plan with clearly defined benchmarks will provide clarity and transparency to a confusing and frustrating process.”
In the interim, Schumer is calling on both governments to broaden the definition of essential travellers to include vaccinated people who have property, educational, medical or business reasons for crossing the border, citing concerns over the federal government’s promise of a new annual tax that would apply to vacant or underused property in Canada that’s owned by foreign investors.
Schumer has also called for clarity for boaters, including tour boat companies that cross the border without docking, and a safety directive for border agents on both sides, including access to testing, vaccines and protective equipment.
The U.S.-Canadian border first closed to non-essential travel on March 20, 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The border has remained closed since, with officials on both sides remaining tight lipped about plans to reopen the border.
In late April, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said international and U.S. border restrictions will be in place for another month, at least, as the country grapples with a third wave of the virus.
Member of Canada’s Conservative Party also have raised concerns about why public health tools, such as rapid tests, have not been positioned as solutions to ease border restrictions.
But Schumer isn’t the first U.S. lawmaker to make such a call. Several other politicians from the border state of New York have made similar pleas, including Rep. Brian Higgins who called for “a partial reopening of the Northern Border by Memorial Day of this year with a full re-opening by July 4.”
Both Higgins and Schumer maintain that vaccination numbers should align with the lifting of public health measures, including border restrictions.
The U.S. remains far ahead of Canada in the number of residents who are fully vaccinated, with 32.1 per cent of the population fully vaccinated compared to 3.11 per cent of Canadians. However, Canada is catching up in the rate of those who have received their first dose, with 44.42 per cent of Americans getting one jab, compared to 35.49 per cent of Canadians, according to CTVNews.ca's vaccine tracker.