It’s time to say goodbye to the ArriveCan app, say border town mayors, tourism industry leaders and others who complain that Canada’s strict COVID-19 rules for international travelers are encouraging would-be US visitors to spend their tourist dollars at home.
Two Ontario mayors whose cities rely on cross-border tourism — Mike Bradley of Sarnia and Jim Diodati of Niagara Falls — urged the federal government on Wednesday to stop requiring travelers to go through a pre-authorization process that many find it frustrating and confusing.
“I learned a long time ago – I’ve been in politics a long time: when you’re riding a dead horse, dismount,” Bradley told a news conference in Ottawa.
“That’s what the federal government needs to do.”
Bradley, Diodati and Estelle Muzzi, mayor of Quebec’s border community of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, south of Montreal, as well as supporters of duty-free store operators, say the rules are a deterrent to incidental cross-border visits, that they say are vital to their local economies.
Adding insult to injury, they say, is the fact that similar rules do not exist for travelers entering the US, especially now that Ottawa is lifting the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for domestic and international travel.
Canadian and foreign visitors looking to enter Canada must continue to use the app or an online portal to submit their vaccination information to the Canada Border Services Agency in advance, a rule Diodati said has lost its usefulness.
“We all support the federal government with all the restrictions at the border; we stand side by side with them to make sure we are safe,” he said.
“But the science is now telling us that having these restrictions at the border is no longer serving us. In the beginning it was to keep the virus out – well, it’s clearly here. It’s not doing what it originally intended to do.”
Richard Cannings, a new Democratic lawmaker whose southern BC run spans six separate Canada-U.S. border crossing points, said duty-free shops in those communities continue to see 95% lower business than they did before the pandemic.
Say hello to the #ArriveCan travel requirement, border town mayors urge Ottawa. #CDNPoli #Covid19
“The NDP caucus, especially, has been very much in favor of restrictions to keep Canadians safe in travel and in their line of work,” Cannings said.
“But we’ve been calling for many months now for a secure border task force, a secure border strategy that would bring stakeholders together to build a system that makes sense for all Canadians to keep us safe, but also keep the business going.”
There was an absence of American voices at Wednesday’s press conference, a marked distinction from the bilateral calls to loosen restrictions that have become a hallmark of the pandemic over the past year.
That’s because U.S. communities and tour operators are benefiting from the imbalance, because it encourages American travelers to stay put and spend their money closer to home, Bradley said.
“Americans, and I give them credit, are great in their own interests,” he said.
Some U.S. lawmakers took full political advantage of the vaccine-mandated protests that disrupted cross-border traffic and trade to the south earlier this year, arguing in favor of boosting domestic manufacturing and supply chains, Bradley added.
“They were using it as an economic development tool to keep industries in their own country instead of coming here.”
Representative Brian Higgins, the New York congressman who over the course of the pandemic has become one of the most vocal proponents of restrictions on facilitated travel, appeared on Wednesday to express solidarity with his Canadian cousins.
“I stand with city leaders and travel agencies calling for an end to the ArriveCan term,” Higgins said in a statement. Voters often call his office, “frustrated and confused” by the constantly changing requirements to cross the border, he said.
“Consequently, to get around the uncertainty and discomfort this creates, many are avoiding making the trip across the border altogether. We have to get back to pre-pandemic US-Canada border management.”
Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker in Toronto who specializes in helping retirees get through the winter months in warmer climates like Florida, said ArriveCan’s requirements are especially onerous for its older, less tech-savvy customers.
Many of them “don’t have a phone to do it – and even if they can do it on a computer, nothing is simple; it’s no use,” Firestone said.
“You’re asking too much of people to the point where they say, ‘You know what, it’s not worth it.'”
The government will “suspend” COVID-19 vaccine mandates for international domestic and international travelers, as well as federally regulated workers, effective Monday. Visiting foreigners must be vaccinated to avoid a 14-day quarantine and extensive testing requirements.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra acknowledged ongoing grievances, saying on Tuesday the government was working on “efficiencies” to make them less burdensome. But it remains a valuable and necessary public health tool, said Alghabra.
Mark Agnew, senior vice president for policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was due to urge the House of Commons’ international trade committee on Wednesday to recommend revamping the app to focus on simplifying border procedures more broadly.
Among its current problems, Agnew says in prepared comments, is that it requires a Canadian address – something US visitors are unlikely to have – and requiring travelers to enter information they must have already presented to an airline.
“There are also issues for travelers whose first language is neither English nor French,” says Agnew, noting that the app is also likely snuffing up border agency resources.
“The system in its current form is not efficient and just doesn’t work,” he says. “With the summer travel season here, and the last two seasons being missed, we don’t have the luxury of time to get this right.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 15, 2022.