Senate Majority Leader Calls For Unilateral Opening Of Border With Canada

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ALBANY, NY (WAMC) – The U.S.- Canada border has been closed since March 20, 2020, with all but essential travelers limited since. There have been growing calls on both sides to reopen the border now that vaccinations are curtailing the spread of COVID-19. In Plattsburgh Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said if there is not an agreement soon, the U.S. should unilaterally open its border.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (left) and state Sen. Dan Stec (right) listens as Assemblyman D. Billy Jones talks about the need to reopen the border. PAT BRADLEY / WAMC NEWS

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that fully vaccinated Canadians returning to the country from the U.S. would no longer need to quarantine. According to the CBC, he was “hopeful that we’re going to see new steps on reopening announced in the coming weeks.”

Schumer was in St. Lawrence County in May to call on Canadian authorities to present a concrete reopening plan.

He visited the state’s northern tier Tuesday to reiterate his call. Adjacent to a row of dry-docked sailboats at the Plattsburgh Boat Basin, all of them sporting Quebec or Montreal registrations, Schumer declared that if Canada is reticent to open the border the U.S. must act on its own.

“Now that they have not moved forward the U.S. must do two things,” said Schumer. “First we expand the definition of essential travel to include vaccinated Canadian citizens with family, property, educational, medical, tourist or business interest. And then the United States on its own should unilaterally open the border to vaccinated Canadians. If Canada doesn’t want Americans to come there that’s their business. We hope they will stop that and we’re pushing to get them to change. But we can on our own say we welcome Canadian citizens here.”

Schumer said with the state’s high vaccination rates and subsequent decline in coronavirus cases here and across the country, it’s clear an agreement can be reached. He said there is a clear economic need to reopen traffic between the two countries.

“It’s estimated that Canadian travelers, two million of them in 2019, contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to our North Country economy,” he said. “In 2020 cross border car traffic was down 98 percent at both the Champlain and Rouses Point crossings. The anomaly is a U.S. citizen can fly all the way to Europe but can’t go over the border even if it’s a few minutes away in Canada. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And businesses, of course, who rely on cross border activity have seen their bottom line slashed.”

There are some loopholes that a few Canadians have taken advantage of to cross the border. Montreal resident Frederique Pichon was nearby doing maintenance on her sailboat. She had taken a 20 minute flight to Plattsburgh and shipped her truck across the border.

“It’s not logical because we can drive back but the only way to come in the United States actually is to [take a] flight. But to go back is no problem. I can go back with my car and my trailer. The only thing I have to take a test three days after. And since the 5th of July, Canadians who come back to Canada don’t have to do a quarantine anymore.”

Schumer has written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas urging them to move unilaterally by July 21.