American’s head north in droves, creating delays at land border crossings

Minnie V. Muir

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BROCKVILLE — Border officials ended job action in time to oversee vaccinated American tourists and property owners across the land border for the first time in nearly 17 months.

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Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents were allowed to cross land borders at 12:01 a.m. Monday for non-essential reasons. This is the first time they have been allowed to do so since Mar. 19, 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And with American property owners and tourists arriving in droves, there were lengthy delays entering Canada at border crossings across the country, including Thousand Islands at Lansdowne.

A wait time of about 90 minutes was what many faced entering Canada Monday morning. In the afternoon, wait times fluctuated between one and three hours, according to the federal government’s travel website.

Even with the wait times, multiple American travellers said they had no complaints with the service and interactions with border officials, with one adding: “I’m just happy to be in Canada after almost two years.”

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Also happy to have Americans drive across the border are local businesses, says the Thousand Islands Gananoque Chamber of Commerce.

“It can only mean good news,” said Bill Stewart, the chamber’s interim executive director.

“We’ve welcomed a lot of staycationers from Ontario, and particularly Quebec the last few weeks. But now with the added bonus of having fully-vaccinated Americans coming in … we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Stewart added they are encouraged that the plan in place by the federal government is succinct.

Stewart says that what is left to happen now is the reciprocity of Canadians being allowed to enter the United States.

The U.S. federal government said last month the land border would remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Aug. 21. In the notice, the government said the continued risk of COVID-19 poses an ongoing specific threat to human life or the national interest.

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However, many officials on both sides of the border have called on the U.S. government to open the land border to vaccinated Canadians. Stewart said with no exact date set by the U.S., both sides will continue to suffer.

“It is a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Stewart.

The reopening of the border to Americans came a little over 48 hours after the Treasury Board and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) reached a tentative agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), the two unions representing border workers.

“We are relieved that CBSA and the government finally stepped up to address the most important issues for our members to avoid a prolonged labour dispute,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president.

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“The agreement is a testament to the incredible hard work and dedication of our bargaining team who worked through the night to reach a deal.”

The agreed-upon four-year contract is retroactive to when the last agreement expired, dating back to June 2018. After declaring an impasse in negotiations last December, the two unions representing border workers held a strike vote in June.

The vote was successful, with a date of Aug. 6 set for when job action would begin. The CBSA said 90 per cent of the unionized workers were declared essential, meaning they would be required to work during the job action.

The declaration as essential resulted in a work-to-rule campaign, with officials doing their job to the letter of the law.

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However, the job action that began at 6 a.m. last Friday did not last very long. The tentative agreement was reached in the late evening, the same day it began.

The new agreement will see border officials retroactively receive pay raises, get better protection against excessive discipline in the workplace and the creation of a National Joint Committee to tackle workplace culture problems at CBSA.

“Finally – after three years of negotiations – we’ve resolved longstanding issues that will go a long way towards making CBSA a better, safer place to work for our members,” said Mark Weber, CIU national president.

In a statement, Jean-Yves Duclos, president of the Treasury Board, and Bill Blair, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said the deal “recognizes the important work of border services officers.

“It also recognizes our government’s responsibility to Canadian taxpayers for a reasonable deal, situated in the economic reality of the country.”

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