The federal government announced changes to its management of the border today providing some relief to families and couples seeking to visit loved ones while increasing some public health measures and strengthening its quarantine monitoring activities.
"The updates announced today respond to the needs of Canadian families who have been separated from their loved ones by international borders, some of whom are facing the most difficult period of their lives," said Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, in a statement.
The changes governing family reunification have been broadened to include exceptions for certain extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents including couples who have been dating for at least a year, including their children, grandchildren, siblings and grandparents.
The government said it would also consider "potential limited release from quarantine" for some visitors.
Visits will be permitted for these classes of travellers on compassionate grounds such as terminal illnesses, critical injury or death. Details of which members of an extended family qualify for the newly announced exceptions, and the conditions that have to be met to secure a compassionate exception, will be released on Oct. 8, the day the new measures come into force, the government said today.
When all non-essential travel across the Canadian border was effectively banned in March, families and couples that live on both sides of the border, or where some family members lived in a country that was not the U.S., were unable to see one another.
On June 8 the Liberal government loosened some of those border restrictions to allow for foreign nationals to visit Canada providing they reported no symptoms of COVID-19, planned to stay for at least 15 days and quarantined themselves for 14 days upon arrival.
But the federal government only gave exceptions for certain classes of visitors such as: the spouse or common law partner of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, dependent children, parents or step parents or a spouse, and guardians or tutors.
Watch: Public safety minister outlines what must change before Canada can open its southern border with the U.S.:
Despite those changes, many Canadians with relationships and family across the U.S. border said they remain stranded, unable to meet the criteria. They included engaged couples who did not meet the legal definition of common-law spouses, and children and parents unable to spend weeks self-isolating on both sides of the border.
The guidelines for visiting, which required a 15-day minimum stay for family members, with 14 days in quarantine, remained an obstacle for people in some professions, such as essential health-care workers, who said they were unable to take the time off.
Quarantine and tracing
"There have been significant impacts for some people as a result of the travel restrictions put in place due to COVID‑19, and it's important that our rules demonstrate compassion," Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement.
"We continue to follow the best public health advice to restrict access to Canada while establishing safe procedures for those in exceptional circumstances," he added.
Watch: Mendicino on the requirements needed to prove long-term relationship status:
The new exceptions require visitors to provide contact information to government officials so their movements can be tracked. The government's ArriveCan app is being heralded as the best way to do this.
Travellers to Canada arriving by air must pass a health check performed by the airline at their point of departure and once they get here their ability to maintain the mandatory 14-day quarantine period will be evaluated before they are permitted to leave their port of entry.
The federal government also said that it was increasing the number of public health officials at the 36 ports of entry that account for 90 per cent of all travel into Canada. The government also said it was targeting an increase to the number of live and automated calls it makes to track travellers in Canada.
"While we want to be compassionate, we also need to manage the risk of community spread, and we must all continue to be vigilant. Cases of COVID‑19 are increasing, and we must all follow public health measures," said Health Minister Patty Hajdu.
The rules governing entry for international students are also being changed. Beginning Oct. 20, foreign students will be allowed to enter Canada providing the institution they wish to attend has been recognized by the relevant province or territory as having a COVID-19 readiness plan in place.
Watch: Health Minister Patty Hajdu the decision to help reunite families who live on different sides of the border: