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State legislators formally ask Ottawa, White House to reopen Canada-U.S. border

Last Updated Jul 14, 2021 at 5:04 pm EDT

Canada and U.S. flags fly in the wind at the Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, March 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

WASHINGTON – A coalition of frustrated legislators from across the U.S. Midwest is formally asking the White House and Canada’s federal government to reopen the border to fully vaccinated travellers.

The Midwestern Legislative Conference, an offshoot of the U.S. Council of State Governments, passed a formal resolution at its annual meeting today calling on both federal governments to take immediate action.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to all but essential travel and trade since March of last year as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Lawmakers from across the Midwest say what qualifies as “essential travel” has been left up to the discretion of individual border agents, creating widespread confusion.

The travel restrictions have been extended on a monthly basis for more than a year, and are currently set to expire July 21.

Canada gradually began easing quarantine requirements last week, but only for fully vaccinated citizens, permanent residents and other eligible travellers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is shrugging off renewed international calls to re-open Canada’s border to international travel.

Trudeau says Canadians don’t want to go back into lockdowns again that could result from re-opening too quickly.

“It would be catastrophic and it would be heartbreaking to have to go back into lockdown as some countries are now looking at with surges in the Delta variant because we were overly eager to reopen by a few weeks,” said Trudeau.

The conference includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin, as well as the province of Saskatchewan.

Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario are also affiliate members.

France, which has opened its borders to Canadian tourists, is eager to see Canada reopen to the French.

The Canadian border remains closed to foreigners, with a few exceptions, and will be until at least July 21.

Ottawa has extended the closure, month after month, since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

RELATED: Does Canada need a standardized federal vaccine passport?

At the French embassy in Ottawa Tuesday, the representative of President Emmanuel Macron’s government argued the Canadian border should be reopened to the French as soon as possible.

“The borders will have to be reopened relatively quickly now for us to put Canada back on our travel plans,” Ambassador Kareen Rispal said.

“If not, it’s true that French ministers will go to the countries where they can go.”

Otherwise, the relationship between the two countries will suffer, she warned.

“The consequence of the border closure is that there are no more visits,” Rispal said. “There are no more ministers. There are no more parliamentarians. There are no more manufacturing visits. There are no more visits by artists … relationships need to be worked on every day, to nourish them.”

France permits Canadians who can prove they are fully vaccinated, or who submit a recent negative COVID-19 test and who attest to not having COVID-19 symptoms, to enter its territory.

“We are a green country,” she said, referring to the colour system used by France to designate countries where the novel coronavirus is under control.

“Canada is a green country. We would be very happy if the French could return to Canada without constraints other than being doubly vaccinated, taking tests, etc. We aren’t asking to return to Canada in a haphazard way.”

Rispal said she will be watching what the Canadian government does on July 21.

Every time the border issue has come up during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent news conferences, he has said he understands everyone’s impatience but has noted, again and again, that the pandemic isn’t over.

The first loosening of the border restrictions came on July 5, when fully vaccinated Canadians were no longer required to quarantine on their return to the country – a measure that applied to everyone who already had the right to enter Canada, such as those with student visas.

Trudeau has promised to relax border restrictions further “in the coming weeks,” and has added he won’t open the door “before the right moment” to unvaccinated foreigners.

On Monday, Macron announced that starting in August, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test will be required to enter restaurants, go to concerts or take the train in France.

For Canadian tourists, paper proof of vaccination will be sufficient, according to the ambassador.

With files from Lina Dib of The Canadian Press

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