Non-commercial travellers cross land borders in pandemic record numbers

·3 min read
Between April 26 and May 2, 85,400 people who were not transporting commercial goods entered Canada by land, CBSA data show. (Maxime Beauchemin/CBC - image credit)
Between April 26 and May 2, 85,400 people who were not transporting commercial goods entered Canada by land, CBSA data show. (Maxime Beauchemin/CBC - image credit)

Data released by the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) show 85,400 people who were not transporting commercial goods entered Canada by land between April 26 and May 2. It's the highest number of non-commercial land crossings since the border closure in 2020.

Despite no change in the definition of essential travel allowing Americans and Canadians to travel, border crossing has steadily increased since March, according to CBSA data obtained by CBC/Radio-Canada.

The number of weekly border crossings has fluctuated significantly throughout the pandemic but had not previously exceeded 75,000.

The spike comes as voices are rising on both sides of the border to ask governments to consider loosening the border closing to facilitate both business and family-related travel between both countries.

Rakesh Naidu is the president of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Rakesh Naidu is the president of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.(Maxime Beauchemin/CBC)

In Windsor, the president of the regional chamber of commerce Rakesh Naidu fears Canadian businesses will be at a disadvantage if they can't meet face-to-face with prospective clients.

"When you cannot be there and assure face-to-face to your customers that you can be there when business actually needs to be conducted, the American businesses will look at sourcing it from someone whom they can conduct business with as normal a manner as possible," Naidu said.

Naidu also said a survey has shown that one out of every six businesses has either closed its doors or is considering it.

Some businesses have already moved south

Entrepreneur Towela Okwudire ended the Canadian operations of her French-language teaching business. She decided to move her office to Michigan, where she can still meet clients in person, for the duration of the pandemic.

Her business and a part-time job as a teacher in a private U.S. school allow her to cross the border as part of the essential travel exceptions. She said she has to carefully remember where she is and where she is going.

Towela Okwudire moved her office to Michigan, where she can still meet clients in person, for the duration of the pandemic.
Towela Okwudire moved her office to Michigan, where she can still meet clients in person, for the duration of the pandemic.(Maxime Beauchemin/CBC)

"When I am in the [U.S.], people mostly don't wear [a] mask. They shake hands, they live pretty much a normal life," she said.

But because she is exempt from quarantine, she has to follow Canadian health guidelines, even in the U.S.

People visiting family feel 'punished'

A growing group of families are also asking for rapid changes in the conditions imposed on personal travellers. Visiting a direct family member, such as a parent or a spouse, is also considered an essential travel under the border closure, but it doesn't exempt the traveller from quarantining upon their return in Canada.

Tina Ouellette wants to see Ottawa relax quarantine requirements for those who are fully vaccinated.
Tina Ouellette wants to see Ottawa relax quarantine requirements for those who are fully vaccinated. (Maxime Beauchemin/CBC)

Tina Ouellette said it creates an impossible barrier for people to see their loved ones.

"I have to take two weeks of vacation time every time I go see him," she said, adding she only saw her partner in person twice since last year.

She hopes the federal government will exempt fully vaccinated travellers from the quarantine before her next visit.

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