Tag Archives: border

At U.S.-Mexico border, a new U.S. president spurs hope and a rush to enter

A few minutes drive from the U.S.-Mexico border, a bus station in Brownsville, Texas, has become an unlikely way station for Central American migrants fleeing their countries and risking all for a new life in the United States. Volunteers give out pizza, clothing and arrange transport while city officials conduct COVID-19 tests. 

Irela Mejia, 24, and her five-year-old son from Honduras were among those picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers while crossing the Rio Grande river onto U.S. land on a raft with dozens of other migrants.

“I came for a better future for my child,” said Mejia, who is hoping to reunite with her brother in Houston and apply for asylum. She says she had already lost her job due to the COVID -19 pandemic, before two hurricanes in November devastated Honduras.

Her son turned five on the month-long trek from Honduras. They came alone, vulnerable and reliant on smugglers.

“I was very afraid,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

But her eyes light up when asked about whether Joe Biden becoming U.S. president influenced her decision to come to the border: “Yes, after he put out that immigrants could come over, I felt it would be a better future, that they might give us documents to be legal in this country.” 

Irela Mejia, 24, fled Honduras a month ago with her son before arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. She is among the tens of thousands hoping it will be easier to enter the U.S. under Biden’s administration. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Mejia is one of tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived at the U.S. border along Mexico in recent weeks in hopes of an easier passage into the country under Biden’s administration. They have been undeterred by the government’s public plea to asylum seekers: “Don’t come now.”

In February, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials detained just over 100,000 people crossing the border — a 28 per cent increase over January, though below the record high of 144,000 hit in February 2019. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said the number of people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021 is on track to hit the highest level in the last 20 years. 

The surge of migrants is fast becoming an early and critical test for Biden to show he can be both firm and humane in dealing with immigration and set his administration apart from that of his predecessor, Donald Trump, whose policies restricted migrants from entering the U.S.

But the challenges are mounting. The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged it is struggling to find space for more than 15,000 children under 18 travelling alone and picked up by U.S. border officials in the last several weeks.

Photos released Monday by Texas Rep. Henry Cueller, a Democrat, showed youth at a new, temporary processing centre in Donna, Texas, crowded together on sleeping mats and covered with emergency foil blankets. Reporters have not been allowed inside the facility. 

WATCH | Migrants flock to U.S. border in hope of easier entry:

Hundreds of migrants from Central America are streaming into Texas from Mexico every day, posing problems not only for the U.S. border patrol but for President Biden. 5:15

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said on Sunday the Biden administration is expelling “family units and single adults” but would not “expel into the Mexican desert” young and vulnerable children. He said the government is working all hours to build up capacity to house them while they are processed. 

Migrants crowd a room with walls of plastic sheeting at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary processing centre in Donna, Texas, in a recent photograph released Monday by Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar. (Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar/Reuters)

Critics attack Biden over immigration

Across the border from Brownsville, in Matamoros, the largest migrant camp on the southwest U.S. border was closed March 6 after Biden reversed Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico,” policy, in place since 2019.

That policy prevented asylum seekers from staying in the U.S. to pursue their claim and ordered them back to Mexico, where thousands subsequently camped along the border. Biden’s swift reversal of that policy allowed migrants with active asylum claims back into the U.S. to pursue their case. 

Critics, including Trump, accuse Biden of throwing open the border to migrants.

“We proudly handed the Biden Administration the most secure border in history,” the former Republican U.S. president said in a statement. They’ve “turned a national triumph into a national disaster.” 

Migrants crowd a room at the Donna processing facility in another photograph released this week by Cuellar. (Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar/Reuters)

Charlene D’Cruz, an immigration lawyer who works in Brownsville and Matamoros, says the topic is a source of “pressure on every single president.” 

“It is in no way the crisis or the situation some Republicans are making it out to be,” she said in Brownsville. “The way the previous president decided to take care of it is just to seal it [the border] until it’s reached a fever pitch; it’s like a tourniquet and when you let it go, of course there’s going to be [a big flow].”

Cruz, who has been working with migrants for 30 years, says there were surges in 2014, 2016 and 2019 and that the latest one started in spring last year with the pandemic and natural disasters adding to the existing threats of local violence in Central American countries.

A girl, with donated butterfly wings, and her mother wait at a Brownsville, Texas, bus station, part of a new surge of migrants trying to get asylum in the U.S. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Treated with respect and dignity 

Aura Cruz, a 67-year-old from Guatemala, is still stranded in Mexico. She fled with her great granddaughter, then an infant, and four other families in 2019 after the baby’s mother was murdered in Guatemala. Dulce is now 2 years old, unaware of her uncertain future.

“I’m worried about the girl,” said Cruz, sitting outside the empty Matamoros camp. “I [could] suddenly die, so I’m eager to keep fighting for asylum.” 

Migrants, mostly from Central America, wait in line to cross the border at the Gateway International Bridge from Matamoros, Mexico, to Brownsville, Texas, on March 15. Biden’s pledge of a more humane approach to immigration has sparked a new rush to the border. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Global Response Management, a U.S. non-governmental organization that provides medical care and humanitarian relief, says migrants need to be given help to ensure they can seek asylum safely. 

“We know more migrants are on their way, more are crossing every day,” said Mark McDonald, a paramedic and assistant project director with GRM.  “They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”

WATCH | U.S. border officials detain migrants crossing border:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents unload migrants picked up in the fields between the border wall near Abram, Texas, and the Rio Grande River, which separates the U.S. and Mexico. After criminal and document checks, some will be released and allowed to pursue their asylum cases; others will be sent back across the border. 0:51

Getting to the root of the problem

For those who’ve cared for migrants for decades along the border, the surge has been predictable.

Sister Norma Pimentel manages a group of shelters in the Rio Grande Valley, including one in McAllen, Texas. 

An advocate for migrants, she says restrictive policies only exacerbate the misery of migrants without stopping them from trying to cross the border. 

“The reason why people come has never been addressed. The focus has been in militarizing the border, but the problem is not the border,” said Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. “The problem is back home, the root causes of why these families migrate in the first place.”

Aura Cruz, 67, fled Guatemala with her infant great-granddaughter after the girl’s mother was killed. She lived in a tent for a year and half in Matamoros, Mexico, in the largest migrant camp on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Dalila Moran de Asencio, 33-year-old teacher, and Edgardo Antonio Asencio, a 33-year-old public servant, and their two children fled gangs and violence in El Salvador 15 months ago. They crossed into the U.S. but were sent back under Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. They’ve been living with 30 other migrants for over a year in a house managed by a Catholic charity in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. 

“It wasn’t easy, but our lives were in danger,” said Edgardo. “I never could imagine that a crime situation would force us to take such drastic decisions.” 

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas. A longtime advocate of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, she was nominated as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2020. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Doctors without Borders provides mental health counselling for people stuck in limbo.

“They show symptoms relating to acute stress that’s associated with anxiety and depression,” said psychologist Catalina Urrego Echeverri, the group’s medical team co-ordinator in the area. 

Dalila, whose dad died when she was 12, says her journey has been a difficult one.

“Sometimes I feel stressed and sad because I don’t come from a family with a great economic situation but with a lot of sacrifices, I finished university,” she said. “And I feel sad because I fought so hard and had graduated soon before I had to leave. From one day to the next we had to leave the country.”

She says the change in the U.S. presidency is the first hopeful sign in over a year. 

“We’ve seen on the news that a lot of families have already been granted access to the U.S., to seek asylum inside,” she said. “We hope and trust that’s our case as well.”

Dalila Moran de Asencio, 33, and Edgardo Antonio Asencio, 33, and fled El Salvador in Dec. 2019 with their children to escape gang violence but were sent back to Mexico after reaching the U.S. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

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CBC | World News

Negative COVID-19 test will soon be required at land border: Trudeau

Non-essential travellers entering Canada through the land border will soon need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arrival, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today.

“As of Feb.15, when you return to Canada through a land border, you’ll need to show a 72-hour PCR test, just like air travel,” Trudeau said today during his regular morning media briefing outside Rideau Cottage.

The prime minister said border officers can’t legally deny entry to Canadians,  but those who show up without proof of a test could face fines of up to $ 3,000.

“What we can do is in cases of no test to show [is] apply a stiff penalty, a fine and demand and ensure a rapid and complete followup to make sure that they are getting tested, that they are being properly quarantined, that they are not putting at risk the safety of other Canadians by returning home without a clear negative test,” Trudeau said.

“As of next Monday people who show up at a Canadian land border on non-essential travel … like returning snowbirds, will be expected to show a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours.”

The new measure comes more than a month after the government announced air travellers will need proof of negative polymerase chain reaction tests — commonly known as PCR tests — three days before boarding their flights home.

Those landing by plane also will soon need to pay for a test after they land as well. The government promised in late January that all air passengers returning from non-essential trips abroad will have to self-isolate in a federally mandated facility for up to 72 hours at their own expense.

It’s still not clear when those new restrictive measures come into place.

The testing requirement is in addition to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for returning non-essential travellers. The government has had travel restrictions on most foreign nationals in place since March 2020.

No exemption for Canadians who have been vaccinated, yet

Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer, said last week there is no exemption yet for Canadians who already have received a vaccine.

“The vaccines we have are very effective for individual protection and that’s what we might expect, but you as an individual do not know whether you are completely protected or not,” she said Friday.

“It is a 90 per cent vaccine effectiveness. You could be in the 10 per cent of the population that may have not taken to the vaccine. You still have to respect those public health measures. That is critical … right now, the scientific principle underpinning the application of vaccines for international travel cannot be made … because we do not know the vaccines reduce transmission.”

Most of the people who cross into Canada are actually exempt from quarantine, largely because they are considered essential workers.

The Canada Border Services Agency said that between March 31, 2020 and Jan. 24, 2021, close to 8.7 million travellers came to Canada; 74 per cent of them were exempt from the 14-day quarantine measures. The number is even higher at the land border alone: 92 per cent of those crossing the border were exempt during that time period.

About 4.3 million travellers — almost half the overall number — were truck drivers, said the border agency.

CBSA said the term “traveller” doesn’t mean individuals and a person could cross several times and be counted each time.

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CBC | Health News

Freeland says government considering more pandemic travel restrictions to secure border

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the federal government is considering further limits on international travel into Canada to prevent the introduction of new COVID-19 cases as calls from opposition leaders for additional pandemic measures grow louder.

“I very much understand and I’m very sympathetic to the view that, with the virus raging around the world, we need to be sure our borders are really, really secure,” Freeland said in an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics.

“And that’s something that we’re working on really urgently now.”

The comments come a day after Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said he wouldn’t rule out invoking the federal Emergencies Act to limit travel. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week he is open to tighter restrictions but suggested existing measures are still effective.

Freeland hinted during an earlier press conference that one of the options on the table is mandatory hotel quarantines for air travellers who return from non-essential trips abroad.

“We are considering the issue very, very seriously,” Freeland said in French in response to a question about a quarantine rule.

The federal government currently requires all incoming travellers aged five and over to present a negative COVID-19 test result from a test taken less than 72 hours before boarding.

They must also quarantine for 14 days upon arrival (unless they are exempt because they are an essential worker) but can do so at their own homes. The mandatory quarantine is enforced by public health officers, who make thousands of calls per day to verify compliance, the government said in a news release last month.

International travellers who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents are currently banned from entering Canada, although there is a long list of exemptions that include essential workers, seasonal workers, caregivers and international students.

Federal figures suggest that between two and five per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada are linked to travel, but there is still virtually no testing at the border and many recent cases do not have an identified source.

Ford, Singh push for additional measures

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he is urging Trudeau to deny entry to Canada to anyone who is not a Canadian resident or citizen. 

“There’s no reason we need people coming in,” Ford told a press conference on Monday.

“Every time I look up at the sky I’m thinking, ‘How many cases are coming in?’ This has to stop.”

Ford also called for mandatory testing for all travellers arriving by land and air.

A total of 143 international flights and 63 domestic flights with confirmed COVID-19 cases have touched down in Canada in the past two weeks, according to figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

A CBC investigation published Jan. 16 found that Canadian air carriers operated more than 1,500 flights between Canada and 18 popular vacation destinations since Oct. 1, even as caseloads rose and the health crisis deepened. (CBC News)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the federal government should consider both mandatory hotel quarantines and a full-on ban of non-essential international travel.

“We’ve seen the use of quarantines — very firm and strict quarantines for travellers — work very effectively in other jurisdictions,” said Singh. “I’m open to similar measures, enforcing a strict quarantine of 14 days, making sure that it happens in a hotel or another facility similarly. But it’s firm and it’s required and it’s monitored.”

A number of countries that have been successful at minimizing community spread of COVID-19 — including South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand — have stricter quarantine regimes than Canada.

In New Zealand, which had just 64 active COVID-19 cases as of Monday, passengers head straight to a “managed isolation facility” — a hotel — if they have no symptoms, or to a “quarantine facility” if they do.

In South Korea, new arrivals must self-isolate for two weeks at a government-designated facility at their own expense. They can choose to quarantine at home but must download a tracking app to ensure compliance.

Mandatory quarantine can reduce leisure travel, expert says

Karen Grépin, associate professor at Hong Kong University’s school of public health, said in an interview on CBC’s News Network that two-week hotel-based quarantines can serve to reduce the amount of non-essential travel by providing a disincentive for people thinking about travelling for leisure.

“I like them because it means people can still come and go if you need to, ” said Grépin, who has studied travel restrictions around the world during the pandemic. “I like it because you don’t have to predict where the risk is coming from because it applies evenly to everyone.”

Grépin said it’s too late for Canada to prevent the introduction of new coronavirus variants — including one first identified in South Africa and another that emerged in the U.K. — but it could reduce the number of cases of those variants. 

WATCH | Hotel quarantine could help discourage non-essential travel, public health professor says

Prof. Karen Grépin says countries most successful in the fight against COVID-19 have adopted a two-week quarantine for all travellers. 4:09

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he wants the federal government to consult opposition parties before additional measures are brought in. He accused the Liberal government of being too slow to limit travel at the beginning of the pandemic.

The federal government has not consulted with the airline industry about more stringent measures, said Mike McNaney, head of the National Airlines Council of Canada.

“There’s been no reach-out,” added Air Transat spokesperson Christophe Hennebelle.

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CBC | Health News

NHL considering moving Canadian teams south of border: reports

The NHL is considering having all seven Canadian teams play the upcoming season in the United States, according to multiple media reports.

The NHL was reportedly planning to realign its divisions for the 2020-21 campaign with a seven-team, all-Canadian division that would play domestically in Canada with no cross-border travel. However, reports Thursday night suggest that every Canadian team may have to head south instead to adhere to provincial guidelines around COVID-19.

“The Government of Canada’s priority is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The resumption of sports events in Canada must be undertaken in adherence to Canada’s measures to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19,” the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement Thursday night following original reports from Sportsnet and TSN.

“NHL teams and other professional sports teams must operate within the rules of their provincial jurisdictions for sports or sporting events.

“Specific questions related to the NHL’s plans should be directed to the NHL.”

The league would need approval from health authorities in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia for a Canadian division to work, and it’s reportedly believed to have hit a roadblock.

Sportsnet reported that senior NHL executives held a conference call with the Canadian teams on Thursday afternoon and discussed the possibility of moving south of the border.

The Canadian Press reached out to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who did not comment on the current situation.

CBC Sports has not independently confirmed the reports.

Ottawa discussing framework of restart

Ontario’s minister of sport, Lisa MacLeod, said earlier Thursday the provincial government is examining how a Canadian division in the NHL might work.

MacLeod said that discussions about the league’s return-to-play plan are happening at Ontario’s public health table with the province’s chief medical officer of health, as well as officials from Toronto and Ottawa.

MacLeod said that she expects to join those conversations in the next few days, as will her federal counterpart Steven Guilbeault.

“In terms of [the NHL’s] direct proposal, I believe I’m going to be briefed on that in the next day or so,” said MacLeod.

Lisa MacLeod says that discussions about the NHL’s return-to-play plan are happening at Ontario’s public health table. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

MacLeod said she spoke to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday and is scheduled to again on Friday. She said she has also had conversations with the Ottawa Senators over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league has targeted mid-January as a potential start date.

However, the Ontario Hospital Association today asked the Ontario government for a strict four-week lockdown in regions with high rates of COVID-19 positivity that would include Toronto, which is in the red-control zone of the province’s colour coded framework.

Ottawa is currently in the orange-restrict category, which would be out of the request’s scope.

Also, the mayors of Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., both said on Wednesday that they want a strict four-week lockdown to begin over the winter holidays to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the GTA.

Ontario reported a single-day record of 2,432 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 23 new deaths due to the virus.

The Ontario Hockey League hopes to begin its 2021 season in early February. MacLeod said that the league has not yet been cleared by Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“The health and well-being of all Ontarians is the No. 1 priority of this government and we continue to put measures into place that protect people,” she said.

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CBC | Sports News

Canada-U.S. border rules: Why some travellers get to cross while others are shut out

Kim Zavesky is desperate to return to her home in Golden, B.C.

After retiring last year, she and her husband — both Americans — sold their house in Chandler, Ariz., and moved most of their belongings to their second home in Golden, in southeastern British Columbia.

The plan was to rent a place in the United States for the first part of the year and spend the rest of the year in Golden. But then the Canada-U.S. border closed to non-essential traffic in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, blocking the couple from accessing their Canadian property.

“All my stuff is there, all my documents except for my passport,” Zavesky said. “It’s like not being able to go home.”

Adding to her frustration is the fact that, despite the border closure, Canadians can still fly to the U.S for leisure travel. That includes snowbirds who are currently flocking to the Sunbelt states.

“The unfairness of it really bothers me,” Zavesky said. “Whatever the rules are, I just feel like it should be the same.”

Americans Kim Zavesky and her husband, Paul, are prohibited from entering Canada to visit their home in Golden, B.C., under policies the federal government put in place after the Canada-U.S. border closed to non-essential traffic in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Kim Zavesky)

Although Canada and the U.S. agreed to close their shared border to non-essential travel during the pandemic, they each crafted their own policies. That has sparked some confusion and frustration because the rules vary — depending on which border you’re crossing.

Political scientist Don Abelson said the different rules between the two countries isn’t surprising.

“You’re still dealing with two sovereign countries who have jurisdiction over their own border, and they certainly have jurisdiction and responsibility for developing their own policies,” said Abelson, a professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. 

Snowbirds OK to fly south

The Canada-U.S. land border is set to stay closed until Dec. 21, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implied on Tuesday that the date could be extended.

“The [COVID-19] situation in the United States continues to be extremely serious,” he said on CBC Radio’s The Current.

Since the start of the border closure, the Canadian government has barred Americans from entering for non-essential travel by all modes of transport.

But while the U.S. has barred Canadian travellers from crossing by land, it still allows them to fly into the country. The U.S. has declined to tell CBC News why it made this decision, but in general, its air travel restrictions are less stringent than Canada’s.

Despite soaring COVID-19 infections in the U.S., a number of Canadians have taken advantage of the flying exemption, including snowbirds who are heading south to escape the Canadian winter.

“No way in hell we’re staying here,” said Claudine Durand of Lachine, Que.

Snowbirds Claudine Durand and her husband, Yvon Laramée, of Lachine, Que., travel to Florida each winter for two months. Durand says they’re still going this year, despite the pandemic. (Submitted by Claudine Durand)

If the land border is still closed when Durand and her husband head to Florida in late January, they plan to use a new service offered by Transport KMC. The Quebec company flies snowbirds — and transports their vehicles — across the Quebec-New York border.

“Basically, it solves our problem because we want to take our RV down,” Durand said, adding that she plans to take all COVID-19 safety precautions while in Florida.

The federal government advises Canadians not to travel abroad for non-essential travel during the pandemic but says it can’t prevent people from leaving.

Those who do must quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Canada.

Family exemptions

Canada and the U.S. also have different rules for family member exemptions.

Following protests from families separated by the border shutdown, the Canadian government loosened its travel restrictions in June to allow Americans with certain immediate family in Canada to enter the country for any reason by both land and air.

In October, the government further widened the exemptions to include additional family members, as well as couples who’ve been together for at least a year.

Conversely, the U.S. offers no exemptions for Canadians crossing into the country by land to visit family, unless they’re tending to a sick relative.

U.S. immigration lawyer Len Saunders suggests the U.S. hasn’t bothered to loosen the restrictions as the pandemic drags on because separated family members can still fly to the country.

“There’s a huge alternative,” said Saunders, who’s based in Blaine, Wash. “There’s no restrictions on flying.”

WATCH | Some Canadians decide to spend winter in U.S. amid COVID-19:

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t stopping some Canadian snowbirds from heading to the U.S. this winter, but they’re not all willing to take the risk for warmer weather. 2:07

One affected group that has found no way around the federal government’s travel restrictions are Americans who own property in Canada. Some of them argue they, too, should get an exemption to enter the country.

“I pay [property] taxes. I would more than live by the rules,” said Zavesky, who points out she has a place where she can quarantine for 14 days — her home in Golden, B.C.

Mark Brosch of Atlanta owns a cottage in Muskoka Lakes, Ont. He said he believes he should be allowed to enter Canada so he can check on a property that has sat vacant for 10 months.

“I get across the border and I go to my cottage and quarantine for 14 days,” he said. “I am less of a risk to the public in Muskoka than the people that travel back and forth from Toronto every weekend.”

Mark and Sandra Brosch of Atlanta are shown at their cottage in Muskoka Lakes, Ont., during a previous summer. This year, the American couple can’t visit their property due to the border shutdown. (Submitted by Mark Brosch)

When asked about property owners, the Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC News in an email that U.S. visitors will be allowed to re-enter Canada when it’s deemed safe to do so.

“Travel into Canada for tourism and recreation purposes is currently prohibited, regardless of the ability of the traveller to quarantine for the full 14 days upon arrival,” spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau said. 

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CBC | World News

Hospital CEO drives across U.S. border to secure medication for ICU patient amid COVID-19

Driving across the border to retrieve medication from Michigan isn’t a typical part of Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj’s job, but desperate times called for desperate measures. 

“You do what you got to do, it’s [an] unprecedented world that we’re living in and again the focus is on the patient,” he told CBC News. 

Musyj says on Sunday, a hospital pharmacist called him and said there was patient who urgently needed medication but the closest place that had the doses the patient needed was the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbour, Mich.

Musyj would not disclose the name of the medication, citing patient privacy, but said there was only one other dose at an Ontario hospital and his hospital needed several.

The pharmacist said they were more than willing to drive to the U.S., personally, but wanted to ensure they would make it back into Canada and asked if they would then have to quarantine, Musyj recounted. 

Normally, a trip like this would be out of the norm for the hospital, but not nearly as uncertain, Musyj said. Border restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic had both Musyj and the pharmacist unclear on the rules with a patient in such dire circumstances. 

Musyj said it took him two hours to cross the border, get the medication and end up back on Canadian soil. He noted how “eerie” the border was, with hardly any traffic. (Rob/Gurdebeke)

As a dual citizen Musyj said he knew he’d have less trouble making it through customs — so he volunteered to go instead. 

“The last thing we wanted to do was send someone who gets stopped at the border and gets sent back and we lose valuable time.”

He said he told the pharmacist, “[The] hospital’s going to survive without me physically being there, we need you more than me.” 

In total, Musyj said it took two hours to make the return trip. 

“It was eerie at the United States border,” he said, adding that he had no trouble getting across. But it was when he tried to re-enter Canada that he hit bumps in the road.  

He was stopped and questioned, during which he said he recalled telling the border agents, “You can do whatever you want with me, but this medication has got to get to the hospital.”

They said he’d be allowed to cross into the country, but because he was under quarantine once he got onto Canadian soil, the most he could do was slowly drive by the hospital and have hospital staff grab the medication from his car window. 

He said he did just that and has been in quarantine ever since. 

Quarantine exemptions for medication needed: Musyj

Musyj said the whole experience emphasized the need for him and his staff to be able to make these sorts of trips. 

This is the first time this has happened since the pandemic began — and Musyj said even before COVID-19 it was a rare occurrence — but he wants to make sure they’re prepared in a pinch.

“The fact that it happened once means it can happen again,” he said. 

As a result, Musyj said he’s brought this situation to the attention of Windsor-Tecumseh Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk so that they can work on getting some type of pre-approval and quarantine exemption should the hospital ever need to do this again. 

At this time, while the federal government’s mandatory isolation rules do contain medical exemptions, the rules don’t explicitly say a person can be exempt from quarantine for bringing medication into Canada. 

Musyj said from the orders he’s read, he believes he would qualify but is in talks with Kusmierczyk to confirm. 

Canadian isolation guidelines mention those who are exempt include people “providing medical care, transporting essential medical equipment supplies or means of treatment, or delivering, maintaining or repairing medically necessary equipment or devices, as long as they do no directly care for persons 65 years of age or older within the 14-day period that begins on the day on which the person enters Canada.” 

Kusmierczyk’s office, told CBC staff are working on this “unique situation” and have flagged the case to Minister of Health Patty Hajdu. 

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CBC | Health News

Alberta to pilot COVID-19 testing at border that could shorten quarantine time

Travellers entering Canada by land or air through Alberta will soon have the option of being tested for COVID-19 at the border in a move that could shorten quarantine times — in a pilot project that’s the first of its kind in Canada, Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday.

The mandatory quarantine period for returning international travellers will be maintained for now. But the 14-day day self-isolation period could be shortened to about 48 hours if a traveller receives a negative COVID-19 test result at one of two border crossings in the province. 

“We simply must move forward to develop policies to facilitate safe travel,” Kenney said during a news conference Thursday, calling it an important day.

“Though a lot of work lies ahead, we can see a return to normal travel.”

Starting Nov. 2, the new COVID-19 testing option will be offered at the Coutts land border crossing in southern Alberta and the Calgary International Airport.

All travellers who choose not to participate in the pilot will have to abide by the normal 14-day quarantine.

For the second consecutive day, Alberta has broken two COVID-19 records for both new cases and active cases — reporting 427 new cases and a total of 3,519 active cases of the illness.

Kenney was speaking from his home in Edmonton, where he is in self-isolation after one of his government ministers tested positive for COVID-19 a day earlier. Kenney tested negative Wednesday night but said he’d continue with the isolation period until Oct. 29.

The voluntary screening option announced Thursday is a joint pilot project between the Province of Alberta and the Government of Canada.

It will be available for foreign essential workers — truckers, health-care workers and other workers who are exempt from the current federal travel ban — and any Canadian citizens returning to the country through Alberta.

If the test comes back negative, travellers will be allowed to leave their place of quarantine as long as they commit to getting a second test on day six or seven after arrival, at a community pharmacy participating in the pilot program, the province said. 

Participants will be closely monitored through daily symptoms checks and be required to follow enhanced preventive health measures, such as wearing masks in public places and avoiding visiting high-risk groups.

WATCH | Contact tracing difficulties hampering attempts to control COVID-19:

COVID-19 cases are rising in Alberta, and officials say difficulties with contact tracing could hamper the province’s ability to slow the spread. 3:49

Could expand to Edmonton

Kenney said if the traveller pilot project goes well, it will be expanded to the airport in Edmonton early in the new year.

“This is an announcement that I have been waiting for, and that we have all been waiting for, for months,” said Calgary Airport Authority president Bob Sartor.

“This innovative, government-approved, science-based testing trial for international arriving guests is the lifeline that airports and airline partners need to instill confidence in air travel once again.”

The pilot was also hailed by Calgary-based airline WestJet.

“Today’s announcement is actually the first piece of good news we have received as an airline since February 29th, when I sat on a Sunday afternoon watching our bookings get outstripped by cancellations and eventually fall by up to 95 per cent,” said WestJet CEO Ed Sims.


Alberta hit a new record for the most new cases in a single day on Wednesday, at 406, and repeated that on Thursday with 427 new cases. The previous single-day record for reported new cases was 356 on Oct.18. During the first wave of the pandemic, the province hit 351 new cases on April 23.

The province also broke the record for the most active cases with 3,372 active cases on Wednesday, and again on Thursday with 3,519.

 The previous record was set Tuesday, with 3,203.

WATCH | What settings are at a higher risk for COVID-19 transmission?

Two infectious disease doctors answer viewer questions about high-risk settings for COVID-19 transmission and how data about transmission could help people make decisions about how to live their lives. 6:11

The government announced that Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard tested positive on Wednesday afternoon and was experiencing mild symptoms.

Apart from Kenney, Transportation Minister Ric McIver and United Conservative Party MLAs Angela Pitt, Peter Guthrie and Nathan Neudorff are also self-isolating because they had interactions with Allard last week, the statement said, though they are not showing symptoms.

Kenney said Thursday that despite the record numbers of COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government has no plans to impose “indiscriminate” restrictions that would shut down the hospitality industry.

He said the province has been “very successful” at maintaining the least-stringent public restrictions while still managing to have some of the best results in the Western world.

Concerns have been growing in recent days surrounding Alberta’s south health zone, which has seen its number of active cases jump more than six-fold since the beginning of the month.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, is expected to give the latest provincial COVID-19 update at 3:30 p.m. MT and CBC News will carry it live here.

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Federal government remains concerned about Jays, MLB teams crossing border

A top Canadian government health official says the Toronto Blue Jays’ revised plan for home games is improved, but that there are still concerns about the proposal.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, says the consequences of the Blue Jays’ and visiting teams’ travelling across the border regularly during the 60-game season remains an issue.

Njoo says the Blue Jays have made adjustments to their original proposal, which didn’t call for a modified quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the current plan, the Blue Jays and visiting teams will stay in a hotel connected to Rogers Centre, as the Toronto club is doing currently during training camp.

WATCH | Dr. Howard Njoo discusses logistics of Jays playing season in Toronto:

Dr Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer and a self-confessed Jays fan, spoke with reporters on Parliament Hill on Tuesday. 3:23

Still, Njoo says the federal government is more comfortable with the NHL model.

The NHL’s plan sees 24 teams arrive in Toronto and Edmonton later this month, with all players and staff being isolated from the general public. The teams won’t leave Canada until they finish play.

Njoo says talks with the Blue Jays are ongoing.

The Blue Jays’ season opener is July 24 at Tampa Bay. The home opener is July 29 against the Washington Nationals.

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Sisters cross Canada-U.S. border, camp in parents’ backyard to be with dying father

Carmen and Lara Messerlian only have one more sleep to go until they can finally squeeze their dad simultaneously in a giant bear hug. 

The two sisters travelled from the United States, where they live with their families, to be with their father, John Messerlian, in New Brunswick.

He has stage four cancer of the kidneys and is dying.

The sisters crossed the Canada-U.S. border almost two weeks ago and have been self-isolating in a tent about nine metres behind their parents’ home in Rothesay. 

“We’ll be able to go onto the patio and actually give our dad a proper hug,” said Lara, the younger of the sisters. 

John Messerlian didn’t want to spend the final days of his life in palliative care at the Saint John Regional Hospital. He wanted to be home with his family in Rothesay. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

Messerlian has renal cell carcinoma and was sent to hospital in an ambulance at the beginning of June when his symptoms worsened.

He spent 10 days at the Saint John Regional Hospital. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, he was allowed one brief visit from his wife, Heleni. Eventually, the medical team suggested their dad stay in palliative care, where he could receive better treatment. 

Instead, the family decided to bring him home, so he wouldn’t be in isolation.

Driving to the border ‘no matter what’

The sisters have two tents in their parents’ backyard in Rothesay, one for sleeping and one for work and leisure. (CBC)

This isn’t the first time the sisters received a call like this about their father. His health has been deteriorating for five years.

So the sisters, who are only one year apart, did what they normally do — jumped in a vehicle and headed home to New Brunswick. 

Carmen’s dog, Daisy, spends time outside near the backyard tents. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

Only this time, they had to try to cross the international border that has been closed since the end of March because of COVID-19.

“There was no doubt, no matter what was happening, I would drive to the border,” Lara said. 

“And if they turn me away, they’ll turn me away. But I would rather just get there and hope that I’ll be able to see my father.”

Sister recovered from COVID-19

Serge Messerlian, with Heleni, Carmen, Lara and John. Serge, the eldest of the siblings, couldn’t make the trip this time from San Francisco to Saint John to visit his father. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

Before they left, Lara travelled from Pennsylvania to her home in New York City. She was in quarantine at her in-laws’ home because she had tested positive for COVID-19 in early April, but has now recovered.

From there, she travelled to pick up Carmen in Boston. Then the duo set out for the border crossing at St. Stephen. They arrived at 2 a.m. on June 13, and were the only ones in line.

The sisters had to give an oath they would follow public health guidelines. If not, they were told, they could be fined up to $ 1 million and possibly face jail time.

The process took a total of 12 minutes.

“It was kind of scary for that moment,” Lara said. “We kind of had a moment of, are we doing the right thing? We don’t want to put anyone at risk and we don’t want to bring anything into the country.

“We certainly don’t want to be patient zero in New Brunswick.”

As a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, Carmen said she’s a strong believer of mitigation measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Daisy also keeps John company throughout the day. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

“My sister and I took this very seriously.”

Lara, who works in public relations in New York City, said the border scene was intimidating, but she respected the patrol officers because they “had a serious job to do.”

“But we also had a serious situation and a family emergency we needed to tend to,” she said.

Once they arrived in New Brunswick, the sisters began their search for a place to stay in isolation.

The two sisters stand in their parents’ backyard and chat with their father, who’s standing on his deck. (CBC News)

Without any luck, they had to choose between spending a night camping for the first time in their lives or sleeping in Carmen’s van.

They chose camping.

“It was easy to choose this as opposed to an Airbnb,” Carmen said. “We could be close to my dad, which was a big factor.”

Camping for the first time 

The Messerlian sisters have been celebrating being together with their father, while living in an outdoor tent over the past two weeks. This is their first time camping. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

But they had to get some camping supplies. Just before Canadian Tire closed, the sisters were on the phone with a staff member in Rothesay. He was picking out all the supplies they would need. Then the items were picked up by a family friend.

“We [had] never pitched a tent, but we were going to do this even if it’s dark,” said Lara. “There was no light at the time,  and there were mosquitos everywhere.”

He’s the perfect package of a person and he’s been unmatched in my life.– Carmen Messerlian 

For the next two weeks, the sisters had two large tents, one for sleeping and one for work and leisure. They had lanterns, a makeshift sink, toilet and shower, which offered only cold water in the mornings from a hose. They also had an inflatable bed, which they said allowed them to have the best sleep of their lives. 

“Everything, you would need for backyard living,” said Lara.

Throughout their camping experience, they were also checked on by police to make sure they were following the rules.

John teaching his grandson, Mateo, music theory, during one of his hospital visits. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

During their stay, the sisters said they were able to enjoy New Brunswick’s fresh air, eat chips and hang out as they did as teenagers.

“We could be like sisters again, sharing a room,” Carmen said. “It’s a tent, but it’s a room to us.”  

But most important, they were able to be near their dad. 

Celebrating dad 

John sports a ‘Still Grooving at Eighty-Five’ T-shirt he received from his family for his birthday. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

The sisters have spent the last two weeks talking with their father about everything, including the weather and childhood stories, and singing old songs he taught them when they were kids.

In his checkered pyjama pants and black T-shirt, he often sits or stands, gripping the deck railing, as Lara and Carmen chat on the lawn. 

They’re looking forward to snuggling under the covers with their dad and listening to his heartbeat, which they have been doing during their visits since he was first diagnosed with cancer five years ago. 

And although he might be a little slower and 25 pounds slimmer since the last time they saw him, he’s still their dad.

The Messerlians took their last family trip to Greece in 2018. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

Their father grew up in Lebanon and moved from Europe to Canada in 1969, where he continued to chase his dreams as a musician. He is known by many as the Golden Sax of Spain.

The sisters described him as a feminist, human rights activist and a good cook, who made everything from scratch.

They said he’s also a fighter. And has escaped death more than once. 

Carmen and Lara Messerlian returned home from the U.S. and are counting the hours until they can hug their father. Carmen is an epidemiologist at Harvard University. Lara works in public relations in New York City and had COVID-19 this spring. 16:43

Although they’re grateful for the time they’ve had together with him over the past two weeks, time might be running out.

A few years ago, Carmen said, she and her father made a pact that he would live at least until he turned 90.

He turns 87 at the end of August.

Carmen snuggles up with her father while he was in hospital over Christmas in 2019. (Submitted by Carmen Messerlian)

“He said to me, ‘I don’t want to break our pact. We made this goal together,’ ” Carmen said, trying to hold back tears. 

“I said even if you’re not here at 90, we’re still here. We’re together. Nothing separates us.”

Not even a major border closure in the middle of a pandemic.

And no matter what happens, the two women promised they would throw a 90th birthday bash for their father in three years.

“He’s the perfect package of a person, and he’s been unmatched in my life,” Carmen said.

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Heartbreak on the 49th parallel: Lives interrupted by the Canada-U.S. border closure

It’s been a dismal few days for Canada-U.S. relations. Specifically, for people in relationships with someone on the other side of the border, dealing with depressing news about their life-altering limbo.

CBC News has spoken with numerous people struggling to deal with restrictions on Canada-U.S. travel intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

That includes two different mothers whose newborns have never seen their fathers in person; a woman completing her pregnancy alone; two other couples with children; and a couple who had their last date at the border, where it was cut short by border agents.

“Defeated,” is how a new Ontario mother, Megan Scott, described her state of mind this week. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Haylie Lynn Gadsby, who has a new baby in Windsor, Ont., while the baby’s belongings are in Michigan — with her fiancé.

“I’m absolutely miserable,” said Lori Bartell, nursing a baby in Prince Edward Island, stranded from her husband in Maine. 

“I am quite mad,” said Steven Husak, who has two children near Detroit and is trying to start a new life with them in Ontario with his fiancée, whom they view as a mother. They were hoping to go camping this summer.

Eric Bartell, left, lives in Maine, and met his newborn via a video chat. His wife, Lori, who lives in Prince Edward Island, says he can’t get to Canada under the current rules. (Lori Bartell)

This week’s letdown

Two bits of news this week extended the heartache across the 49th parallel. 

First, as reported by CBC News and other media, government officials expect a ban on non-essential land travel across the border to be renewed beyond June 21.

Another blow came in the fine print of an announcement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced some relaxation of the border rules this week. Some families say they won’t help the majority of people who’ve been separated from loved ones. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

He announced a relaxation of rules for travelling to Canada — but they only apply to people under specific conditions, which many stranded partners say they cannot meet. 

They require a 15-day minimum stay in Canada, with 14 days in quarantine, and are only for people who meet the legal definition of being immediate family to Canadian citizens.

A new community of people has popped up to share its frustrations in private Facebook chat groups, which count hundreds of members.

They come from different places, and different walks of life, but one thing they tend to have in common is they’re at transitional moments in their lives.

Those with pending immigration applications, for example, have seen them slowed by the pandemic.

Parents, babies, separated by a border 

One online chat group was started by a physician in Windsor, Ont., Ashley Cook, who is expecting a baby this summer with her Michigan husband.

“How are we treating people this way?” Cook said. “This is hurting so many people.”

She said many people can’t quarantine for 14 days.

Ashley Cook, a Windsor, Ont., physician, started a Facebook group for people affected by the border shutdown. She’s expecting a baby this summer with her husband, Tom Cook, who is in Michigan. (Submitted by Ashley Cook)


For example, Bartell’s husband is in Maine, her future home, and can’t leave for too long, as he’s running a farm with animals and a construction company. 

He hasn’t been allowed to visit their two-month-old baby, and now Bartell fears he still won’t be able to under the new rules.

“I put on a pretty good front,” she said, “but I’m an emotional wreck.”

She said she leaves the phone next to her head at night because the sound of her husband breathing helps her fall asleep.

Scott, the new mother who lives near London, Ont., said her husband can’t self-quarantine in Canada for that long either, as he’s an active-duty member of the U.S. military stationed in Virginia. Her husband has been away for nearly half the life of their eight-month-old daughter.

[We’ve missed] so many milestones. First tooth, first word — which was ‘Dada,'” she said. 

“[That’s] time that we will never be able to get back as a family.”

Anger over confusing, inconsistent rules

Separated couples are also fuming about what they see as double-standards — with different rules in different countries for different modes of transportation.

Take air travel. An official at U.S Customs and Border Protection confirmed Wednesday that the U.S. allows Canadian travellers in by plane.

That means someone living in a Canadian border town could visit a nearby U.S. town — provided they can get a plane ticket and fly there.

“It boggles my mind,” said April Umbenhower, Husak’s fiancée, who lives in Kingsville, Ont.

Ontario resident April Umbenhower, left, and her Michigan fiancé, Steven Husak. Husak organized couples like theirs to make a video titled, Love Is Essential. (Submitted by April Umbenhower)

Montrealer Béatrice Beuillé said she can’t understand why, in the name of public health, she’s barred from driving alone to Vermont — but it’s fine if she manages to find a short-haul flight.

“I don’t get the logic,” she said.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, said it treats land and air passengers the same way. Unlike the U.S., it has just relaxed rules for immediate family.

That can get murky, too.

A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said she could not give a definitive answer whether, for instance, unmarried parents of a Canadian newborn are considered each other’s immediate family.

The official suggested they likely would be, but it’s at the discretion of a border services officer. In any case, the visitor would need to quarantine and stay in Canada for the minimum 15 days.

Megan Scott, left, says her husband, Adam Scott, is active-duty U.S. military and can’t isolate from work for 14 days. As a result, he’s been away from her and their baby for months. (Submitted by Megan Scott)

Husak said people were hoping for broader exemptions this week, and many are struggling emotionally.

“This news really hurt,” he said.

Husak got to know a number of affected families when he gathered testimonials for a video about their stories.

The title of his video, Love Is Essential, is a riff on the idea that only essential workers are allowed to cross the border as a result of the agreement between Canada and the U.S.

WATCH | Husak’s Love is Essential video: 

Some of those cut off by the border closure expressed frustration that other activities are resuming, including businesses reopening and huge protests across major cities.

One Facebook group moderator urged people to stop posting about unrelated political issues — notably, the large Black Lives Matter protests.

Coping mechanisms

Ethan Gilson has a unique perspective on the longing for love.

He’s not only a fiancé stuck in limbo, he’s a mental-health counsellor in Vermont. 

When asked about the effects of isolation, he mentioned studies involving rats, in which lonelier rats opted for drugs over water.

He suggested several coping mechanisms — meditation, yoga and counselling.

Gilson is also growing an increasingly unruly beard, the pandemic equivalent of a playoff beard. He’ll shave his off when he reunites with his partner, Béatrice Beuillé from Montreal.

One love story

He and Beuillé were in love before they had their first date. They met online, while she was visiting family in France, and he had her laughing so hard that she left the house to avoid waking her parents.

They finally met in person in Montreal.

“At the end of the [first] date, I told her I was going to marry her someday. She said, ‘I hope you do,'” Gilson said. 

He proposed after six months, during a hike in Vermont. That was in early March.

Then the pandemic hit. “Which really sucked,” Gilson said.

Our biology is meant to be social. We’re always trying to connect.– Ethan Gilson

They managed to organize a date at a tiny border checkpoint on a hilly, country road. They set up lawn chairs on either side and talked for hours.

The next week, when they went back, they were scolded by border guards from both countries.

“They told us, ‘No, that was a mistake. We don’t want to be managing this. The law isn’t clear.’ So we continued via FaceTime,” said Beuillé, who works for a cargo company.

What’s next

She’s found this period isolating, living away from her family and Gilson, and not having even shaken a human hand in three months.

She’s tried calling government offices for information, but she got bounced from one to another. 

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada-U.S. border crossing in Surrey, B.C., on March 20. The closure of the border to non-essential travel has split up some families for months. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

As month after month goes by, what most frustrates her is the lack of evidence of a long-term plan. It’s unclear, for example, what metrics governments are using to decide when to reopen the border, she said.

She and Gilson are starting to plan their wedding. He’s having a house built in Vermont. They hope to have the ceremony on the property and move in on the wedding day.

The mental-health counsellor offers a word to others struggling through this moment.

“Our biology is meant to be social. We’re always trying to connect,” Gilson said.

“This [isolation] is all going to end. This is not permanent.”

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