Canadian officials are looking at a multi-phase approach to reopening the border that would begin with allowing fully vaccinated travelers to enter starting this summer.
The pace of Canada-U.S. discussions about reopening has intensified lately, as more people in both countries are vaccinated and as frustration grows on the American side over the continued border closure.
The broad themes of those conversations were described to CBC News by several border town mayors who have been consulted on the talks, and by one federal official.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed two key elements of the likely reopening plan in public remarks Monday: that the reopening will happen in stages and that the first travelers entering Canada will have to be fully vaccinated.
“We are looking at how we’re going to start welcoming up tourists in a phased way as the numbers come down in Canada, as the numbers start to come down in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” Trudeau said in remarks reported by The Canadian Press.
One example of a scenario being envisioned for a first phase would be to allow vaccinated travellers to avoid quarantine if they have a negative COVID test.
Several aspects of the reopening plan remain up in the air.
The first is the reopening date itself: Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told a group of border mayors in a meeting last month that it was uncertain whether the first phase could happen in late June, when the current border restrictions expire.
An official aware of the Canada-U.S. talks, who asked to remain anonymous, said he doubts a June reopening is likely and suggested July would be a likelier starting date for the first phase.
Other technical details still have to be worked out, such as the form proof of vaccination would take. The same official said that proof would require, at a minimum, a vaccination card and perhaps another form of evidence.
That leads to another significant possibility — an asymmetrical reopening of the Canada-U.S. border, with each country applying different rules.
Take proof of vaccination, for example — as with several other aspects of the pandemic, it’s become a politically charged and partisan issue in the U.S.
Some Republican governors have passed laws preventing demands for proof of vaccination on their territory. President Joe Biden has said he will not create a federal vaccine passport.
The official familiar with the talks says there’s a chance the countries might have different border standards regarding vaccination.