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Unvaccinated Canadian truckers will have to quarantine under new mandate, feds say

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The federal government says that unvaccinated Canadian truckers will not be exempted from the new federal vaccine mandate for truck drivers coming into effect this weekend.

In a joint statement, Canada’s transportation, health, and public safety ministers said that Canada’s initial policy requiring truckers coming into Canada to be fully vaccinated, or face PCR testing and quarantine requirements, stands.

Despite the Canada Border Services Agency telling reporters on Wednesday that unvaccinated Canadian truck drivers arriving at the border would “remain exempt” from any testing or quarantine requirements, the government now says that information, provided by a spokesperson, was incorrect.

As things stand, and as was initially the case before this week's confusion, unvaccinated Canadian truckers will have to “meet requirements for pre-entry, arrival and day eight testing, as well as quarantine requirements,” as they can’t be denied entry into Canada.

Unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated non-Canadian truckers will be turned away if they are unable to show proof of immunization or a valid medical contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccines.

“On November 19, 2021, we announced that as of January 15, 2022, certain categories of travellers who are currently exempt from entry requirements, will only be allowed to enter the country if they are fully vaccinated with one of the vaccines approved for entry into Canada. These groups include several essential service providers, including truck drivers,” said the ministers in the statement.

With just days to go before the vaccination requirement for truck drivers is set to come into effect, this is the second time federal officials have appeared to flip-flop on what the rules will be in the last 24 hours, though in their statement the government said its position “has not changed.”

“The information shared yesterday was provided in error. Our teams have been in touch with industry representatives to ensure they have the correct information,” reads the statement.

In order to qualify as a fully-vaccinated foreign national, non-Canadian truckers have to have completed their authorized vaccine series at least 14 days before entering the country and have submitted the required information through the ArriveCAN app. 

Fielding earlier questions about the state of the policy, the federal government denied it was reversing its decision, saying that because the United States is set to enact its own vaccine mandate for essential workers at the border, starting on Jan. 22, unvaccinated Canadian truckers are expected to face restrictions once the reciprocal American policy comes into effect.

While truckers had applauded what appeared to be a backing down from the government on the mandate, the organizations that spoke to CTV News prior to the latest statement said that the main issue remains the reciprocal Canada-U.S. restrictions on unvaccinated foreign national drivers.

Cross-border trucking organizations have been sounding alarm bells over the policy for weeks, saying that requiring drivers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 would sideline thousands of drivers, exacerbating the trucker shortage, and lead to serious strains on the supply chain.

“What we really have here in the next seven to nine days is the need for Ottawa and Washington to both agree to remove their foreign national requirements,” said Stephen Laskowski, head of the Canadian Trucking Alliance on CTV News Channel Thursday morning, noting that his organization is in favour of vaccinations for its drivers.

“It's not a question of if this mandate should be put in place, it's a question of when. So let's work together in a collegial manner on both sides of the border, let's understand that the supply chain is in a fragile state, and let's pick a date to impose such measures when the supply chain is in a in a more in a stronger condition than it is today,” he said.

Reacting to the government’s decision to stand by not allowing exemptions for unvaccinated truckers, Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman panned their handling of this file.

“We now have a reversal on a reversal that has resulted in greater uncertainty for many in the industry and an industry that has been working around the clock since the beginning of the pandemic, uninterrupted,” she said.

NDP health critic Don Davies said that the Liberals’ handling of this has led to considerable confusion in the industry and questioned why it’s taken them months to roll out this policy.

“Of course truckers going into the United States and coming back must be vaccinated. We're making American truckers do it, we should apply the exact same rules to Canadians or else we're putting economics above public health,” Davies said. 

Throughout the pandemic, the government has considered truck drivers to be an essential service and as a result these drivers have been exempted from COVID-19 border restrictions. In defending this new mandate amid questions over supply chain concerns, the federal government has repeatedly asserted it was working to ensure goods kept flowing while protecting Canadians’ health and safety first and foremost.

“We understand we're trying to affect public health, and we're all in favor of that, but we have to understand that truck drivers deliver medical gases to hospitals, the vaccines that we need, our medicines, our food, our fuel. And we already have a fractured supply chain and if we damage that, the supplies that we need for our own health and safety, we're going to see a shortage,” said Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, in an interview on CTV News Channel earlier on Thursday.

According to the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) association, the trucking industry moves approximately 80 per cent of the annual $648 billion in Canada-U.S. trade. The CME sent a letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week, asking for the mandate to be postponed “to avoid a crisis at the border,” and “catastrophic outcomes” for Canadian companies that rely on these supplies.

Warning of potential cost impacts for Canadian businesses and consumers given how much of Canada’s agri-food imports come into Canada by truck, Sylvain Charlebois, director of the agri-food analytics lab at Dalhousie University, has said the mandate would be “the first public health measure that could disrupt trades between Canada and the United States since the start of the pandemic.”

With files from CTV News’ Mackenzie Gray

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