WASHINGTON — The Canada-U.S. border will likely be closed to all non-essential travel in both directions as of Friday night, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau says the details are still being worked out between the two countries, but anticipates the closure — a mutual agreement that will allow trade routes and commercial channels to remain open — will go into effect at some point in the overnight hours between Friday and Saturday.
“We are continuing to work on the fine-tuning of the agreement between Canada and the United States, I think it’s almost there,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa. “My understanding is that the measures will probably come into place in the night between Friday and Saturday, so in about a day and a half.”
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Essential cross-border workers like health-care professionals, airline crews and others will be permitted to cross, but neither the federal government nor the White House have yet provided explicit details about precisely how they intend to define those who will be exempted.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said it was vital to the economic health of both countries to avoid restricting the $2.7-billion worth of goods that cross the Canada-U.S. border each day.
She called the agreement a testament to the strong partnership between the two countries even in the face of an escalating global crisis.
U.S. President Donald Trump suggested Wednesday that the travel ban would likely be in place for about a month, although timelines remain a moving target given the nature of the outbreak and a persistent lack of clarity about the scope and severity of the emergency.
Trump, a border hawk who has already banned foreign nationals who recently visited Europe from setting foot in the U.S., has characterized the agreement as something that would be “good for both countries” — a departure for someone whose “America First” rallying cry, disdain for free trade and stay-home foreign-policy preferences have helped forge his reputation as a self-interested isolationist.
That reputation has some Canada-U.S. observers marvelling at the co-operation, while others fear the goodwill could be short-lived.
The Canadian American Business Council is asking members to submit testimonials about the importance of commercial channels “to make the case that these measures not be broadened in the future to include commerce.”
Chris Sands, a cross-border scholar and head of the Canada Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center, noted that the U.S. hasn’t exactly been working hand-in-glove with other countries — most notably China or Europe — when it comes to curbing the spread of COVID-19.
“It is the fruit of nearly two decades of efforts by the United States and Canada after the Sept. 11 attacks to adopt a shared border management approach that is data-driven, utilizing risk management to allocate personnel and technology to keep the border open to legitimate trade and travellers in an emergency,” Sands said in a statement.
Until the closure takes effect, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has been urging Canadians in the interim to honour the spirit of the agreement and resist the temptation to try to enter the United States if it’s not absolutely necessary.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2020.