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Justin Trudeau

Canada announces new border controls for foreign air travellers

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 @ 11:52 AM | By Cristin Schmitz

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a series of border measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, including banning, as of noon EDT March 18, air travel into Canada of foreign nationals, excepting Americans, Canadian permanent residents, travellers transiting Canada to a third country, immediate family members of Canadian citizens, diplomats and aircrews.

“My top priority is the health and safety of all Canadians,” Trudeau said in announcing the measures March 16. “Our government is doing what it must to protect all Canadians and to support workers and businesses,” he said. “We will get through this together by following the directions from our public health and medical experts and doing what we can to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

According to a government backgrounder, under the Aeronautics Act, the federal minister of Transport will require air carriers on flights to Canada to deny boarding to any passenger who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and has resided in any country other than the U.S. in the last 14 days. For practical purposes, the denial of boarding would apply to all foreign nationals on flights to Canada other than transborder flights, and any foreign national on a transborder flight who has resided outside the US and Canada in the last 14 days, the backgrounder says.

In short, a person could not board a plane to Canada if that person has been outside of Canada or the United States in the last 14 days, unless that person is a Canadian citizen, Canadian permanent resident or in transit to a third country. This would not, however, apply to air crews, travellers arriving in Canada in transit to a third country, Canadian permanent residents, diplomats, or immediate family members of Canadian citizens.

Under the Aeronautics Act, the minister of Transport is requiring  air operators to deny boarding to symptomatic travellers (regardless of citizenship status) and keep them from going on an international flight to Canada (including a transborder flight). Air operators will be required to do a “basic health assessment” of all air travellers before they board the flight, based on guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). The basic health assessment would require the operator to ask simple health questions; look for visible signs of illness prior to boarding; and possibly refer the traveller for a further medical assessment. If the traveller presents COVID-19 symptoms, the air carrier will be required to refuse to board the passenger for travel for a period of 14 days and a demonstration that they are non-symptomatic, or until a medical certificate is presented that confirms the patient does not carry the virus.

Airlines were asked to begin implementing this immediately and to have the procedures fully in place by March 19, at 12:01 a.m. EDT. “While working to protect Canadians from COVID-19, we must ensure our airlines continue to fly and that supply chains remain open,” the government backgrounder stressed. “As such, these measures do not apply to domestic flights or cargo flights.”

If a traveller becomes symptomatic in-flight, air carriers will move to isolate the passenger quickly according to international standards, and flight crews will don appropriate personal protective equipment, the backgrounder states. In addition, the flight crew would have to notify air traffic control of a passenger presenting COVID-19 symptoms. Arriving airports will be required to segregate any symptomatic passengers immediately upon deplaning, so they would not mingle with other passengers in the arrivals area and customs hall. Enhanced screening measures at airports will include stronger and more visible messaging; health screening questions at kiosks; roving CBSA officers checking on arriving passengers; and CBSA officers checking passengers upon departure from the customs hall “to ensure delivery and reinforcement of public health messaging.”

As of March 18, 12:01 a.m. EDT, Trudeau said the government will redirect some international passenger flight arrivals to four airports — Toronto Pearson International Airport, Vancouver International Airport, Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Calgary International Airport. Domestic flights, as well as flights from the United States, “sun destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean,” and from St. Pierre-et-Miquelon, will not be affected by this measure and will be able to continue to operate on their regular routes and land at current Canadian destinations, the government said.

The government noted that the Public Health Agency of Canada has asked that Canadians avoid non-essential travel outside Canada and that any Canadian or non-Canadian traveller arriving in Canada undertake 14 days of self-isolation, with the exception of workers who are essential to the movement of goods and people. “This includes travel associated with the movement of healthy workers in the trades and transportation sector such as flight crews, truck drivers, railroaders, mariners, or the movement of other healthy workers across our border to go to work, including health care providers and critical infrastructure workers,” the government’s backgrounder says. “These workers are asked to closely self-monitor, and self-isolate immediately should they exhibit any symptoms. It is recommended that employers in these sectors conduct active daily monitoring of their staff for COVID-19 symptoms.”

The government recommended that Canadian travellers who wish to return to Canada seek to do so via commercial means while those means remain available. The government said it is enhancing its support to impacted Canadians abroad through the creation of a COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad. The program will provide the option of up to a $5,000 emergency loan to Canadians in need of immediate financial assistance to help them return home or to temporarily cover their life-sustaining needs while they work toward their return. The government said it will provide additional support to Canadians directly affected by COVID-19 and unable to immediately return home “through new partnerships with local and other organizations and will complement existing consular services.” Eligible Canadians currently outside Canada and needing help to return home were advised to contact the nearest government of Canada office or Global Affairs Canada’s 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at 1 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted where available) or e-mail

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