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Canada-U.S. border closing to non-essential travel at midnight, irregular migrants to be turned away

Last Updated Mar 20, 2020 at 2:35 pm EDT

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the mutual decision by Canada and the United States to close their shared border to non-essential travel will take effect at midnight tonight.

Both countries have been negotiating a mutual ban on recreational travel without restricting the flow of two-way trade and commerce.

Essential cross-border workers like health-care professionals, air crews and others are being permitted to cross, but business advocates had been hoping for more clarity on how exactly the restrictions and exemptions would be enforced.

Government officials say the focus will be more on turning away recreational travellers than it will be about creating exemptions for people considered essential.

The Canadian American Business Council is working on ways to use existing “trusted traveller” programs to streamline the process of getting across the border for those who qualify.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says it is vital to the economic health of both countries that the flow of $2.7 billion worth of goods that cross the Canada-U.S. border each day be allowed to continue.

As well, asylum seekers crossing into Canada on foot from the U.S. will be turned back as part of the border shutdown between the two countries.


The Liberal government had previously been planning to place the border crossers into mandatory self-isolation.

That plan had come after calls from the Quebec government for the federal government to ensure those crossing irregularly into Canada would follow the same isolation protocols as other international travellers.

Trudeau says the move to instead turn them away is an exceptional measure to protect Canadian citizens and it is temporary.

Thousands of people have been crossing into Canada from the U.S. for at least three years using unofficial entry points to get around a deal that forbids people from lodging asylum claims at land border crossings.

Watch the prime minister’s full update below.