Public officials in one of Canada's busiest border cities say it’s disappointing the U.S. remains closed to Canadians crossing over on land, especially for those who can’t afford to travel by air.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, whose area sits on the Canadian side of the Blue Water Bridge border crossing, said he’s frustrated with the ongoing delay – noting Canadians have been waiting nearly 18 months to cross but have few options to do so.
“You can fly into the U.S., but you cannot cross by car,” Bradley said, citing one example of a helicopter service offering 15-minute charter flights from Windsor to Detroit for people looking to cross the U.S. border.
He added that prices are high, ranging from $750 (U.S.) a seat to more than $2,000 for a group booking.
“There's a lot of marriages, there's a lot of relationships and families on both sides,” Bradley said. “It just makes it tougher for them if you say you need to fly and spend all that money to get into the U.S.”
Fully vaccinated Americans have been able to enter Canada for non-essential purposes since Aug. 9. But Canadians looking to enter the U.S. by land will have to wait at least another month, the U.S. government announced last week.
Bradley believes the U.S. decision to extend the border closing boils down to two main reasons: a spike in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and the government “treating the Canadian border the same as the Mexican border,” he said.
“They put us (Canada and Mexico) together, and I think that’s probably the biggest issue,” Bradley said. “A lot of American politics at the national level is shaped by border politics, between the United States and Mexico.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said border restrictions are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the fourth-wave surge of the Delta variant. The move also comes amid a surge of migrants looking to cross the southern U.S.-Mexican border, where some states are hit hard by the resurgent virus.
The land border had remained closed for nearly 18 months before fully vaccinated Americans could enter Canada, provided they show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. Canadians will have to wait until at least Sept. 21.
Many Sarnia residents are eager to cross and reunite with family again, said Marilyn Gladu, who is seeking re-election as the Conservative MP for Sarnia-Lambton.
"People here are very upset," Gladu said. "We've had numerous calls to the office; medical situations where people wanted to see a dying loved one, people who had property damaged in stores and couldn't attend, (and) those who wanted to get married and were kept apart."
Both Gladu and Bradley say the Canadian government should have reconsidered its approach to opening the border on this side to Americans a month ago.
“I’m disappointed,” Bradley said. “We went into this together, two countries, and we closed the borders in the united effort to control COVID. Yet, we went ahead and opened our border to people who are vaccinated.”
He added: “Our approach was tepid and timid. We should have held our fire and said, 'Look, we will open with you, and we'll work our way through this together.'”
Despite a surge in COVID cases in the U.S., Bradley said he’s trying to remain optimistic about the situation, noting he hopes to see the border reopen next month.
“If you have two shots, whether you’re a Canadian or American and fully vaccinated, you should have the ability to cross the border."
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press