The Lawyer's Daily is now Law360 Canada. Click here to learn more.

Uncle Sam holding an "open" sign

Time to get serious about reopening U.S.-Canadian border

Tuesday, April 13, 2021 @ 2:09 PM | By Rosanna Berardi

Rosanna Berardi %>
Rosanna Berardi
With summer approaching, and one year of suspended land movement behind us, a growing number of Americans and Canadians are calling for the U.S.-Canadian border to reopen. Non-essential traffic across the U.S.-Canadian land border was suspended on March 21, 2020, to slow the spread of COVID-19 and has been extended each month since. On March 18, 2020, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. Homeland Security announced that the restrictions on non-essential travel across the U.S.-Canadian land border have been extended through April 21, 2021. This marks 13 months of suspended movement between the two countries due to the pandemic.

The same day Trudeau and U.S. Homeland Security announced the most recent extension of border restrictions, a panel of international trade and travel experts from both countries assembled to discuss what many people were already thinking: it is time to start reopening the border. It is no secret that individuals, families and businesses on both sides of the border have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 travel restrictions. In discussing the need for action from the U.S. and Canadian governments, the panel of experts emphasized, not only the severe economic consequences that come with restricting travel and tourism, but the social costs as well. The psychological toll that comes from missing loved ones residing across the border is not often accentuated in the U.S.-Canadian border discussions, as it cannot be monetized, but it is by no means less real than the economic costs.

One panellist, former chief diplomatic officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Alan Bersin, proposed a multifaceted solution for Canada and the U.S. to adopt in order to balance public health considerations and the need for less restrictive international travel. Specifically, Bersin proposed the two countries develop and embrace an electronic system that can be used to look up whether each traveller has been vaccinated or is equipped with COVID-19 antibodies. According to Bersin, screening procedures would need to be science-based and include some form of pre-clearance mechanism to prevent congestion at land ports of entry. Such a system and relevant procedure would require bilateral effort from both the U.S. and Canada to be successful.

To ensure bilateral efforts are being taken, the panellists entertained the idea of a bilateral commission that focuses on cohesive border procedures and processes. Some suggest that such a bilateral commission, which focuses on border traffic, could be useful in not only minimizing the spread of the current COVID-19 virus, but also in preventing and responding to future public health crises as they arise.

Although no plan as to how and when the U.S.-Canadian border should open has been adopted by either country, growing conversations regarding the need for action are a good sign that change may be on the horizon. Because the U.S. reported relatively high rates of positive COVID-19 cases over the past year, some speculate that Canada has been waiting for numbers to drop, and to stay low, before lifting travel restrictions. To the delight of many, this wait time may be over sooner rather than later given the impressive rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. To date, over 56 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated and over 99 million have received their first dose. In its mission to end the pandemic, the White House has also made plans to ship 1.5 million doses of the vaccine to Canada. According to New York Rep. Brian Higgins, vaccine “parity” is a “critically important” step toward allowing the border to reopen. Notably, Congress members are urging President Joe Biden to advocate for “non-essential” travel for those who have been vaccinated. Thus, the ongoing distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine may be the light at the end of the tunnel for those wishing to cross the border.

Although not everyone will agree on how the U.S.-Canadian border should reopen, there is a general consensus that action is needed. As neighbours, Canada and the U.S. have strong economic, social and political ties, so it is not surprising that people are itching to lift the barriers placed between them. After 13 months of suspended movement, it is time to get serious about reopening the border.

Rosanna Berardi is the managing partner of Berardi Immigration Law and the CEO of High Wire Woman, where she helps working women create a blueprint to live their lives in a simpler way and take back their most precious commodity: their time.

Photo credit / Michael Burrell ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to
The Lawyer’s Daily, contact Analysis Editor Richard Skinulis at or call 437- 828-6772.