Trudeau government ready to drop ArriveCan, possibly masks on flights

Garrett Gardner

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The ArriveCan app may no longer be mandatory and other remaining travel requirements and restrictions for air travel in Canada could soon be removed. If all goes well, masking could even be made optional within the next few weeks.

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A trial balloon floated by the Trudeau government in the Toronto Star over the weekend looks set to fly.

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The Trudeau government has been under heavy criticism from border communities, tourism groups, the union representing border guards and the opposition Conservatives over the remaining restrictions. They’re also facing lawsuits over vaccine mandates to fly and the ArriveCan app.

Discussions I’ve had over the past several days with industry, government and other sources point to a fluid situation where final details are still being worked out but, generally speaking, most measures will be gone by the end of September. That’s when the Order in Council that gives the existing restrictions and requirements expires.

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The requirement for being vaccinated to board a domestic flight ended on June 20; now it appears the requirement for foreign travellers to be vaccinated to enter Canada will end on Sept. 30. Mandatory random testing for arrivals will also end at that time.

The ArriveCan app is expected to become an optional way for Canadians to make their custom declaration, but will no longer be a mandatory requirement for entry. With the ending of vaccine requirements, travellers will no longer be required to upload their proof of vaccination to the glitchy app.

Masking remains a point of contention inside the government, with many in cabinet ready to drop them. However, Health Minister Jean Yves Duclos wants masking requirements to remain in place until after Thanksgiving to measure the impact of holiday travel on transmission.

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WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech took to social media to call news of the possible changes a “positive signal.”

“Hopefully, it includes a transition of mandatory masking on airplanes, as well, and turn masking to ‘recommended but optional’ as it becomes increasingly unenforceable!” von Hoensbroech said.

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The masking requirement has become something of a theatrical effort at controlling COVID. American planes departing Canadian airports stop enforcing the masking requirement as soon as the door is locked for departure and depending on the airline, mask wearing on international flights is only enforced in Canadian airspace.

Meanwhile, on domestic flights, passengers will often slowly sip a drink or eat a meal because mask wearing is not enforced or possible at those times.

Trudeau has held tight to COVID measures

The Trudeau government has clung to COVID-19 restrictions longer than any provincial government in the country. Conservative, NDP and Liberal premiers ended local COVID restrictions months ago as Trudeau kept them in place, often making it look like his decisions were driven by political science rather than medical science.

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This move won’t help.

If the COVID situation was so dire over the summer months — also Canada’s busiest travel season — then why loosen them as we head into the fall as cases inevitably rise?

Some political watchers are calling it the “Poilievre factor,” noting Pierre Poilievre’s recent election as leader of the Conservative Party. Poilievre promised to get rid of ArriveCan during his victory speech last Saturday night, a moment that drew thunderous applause.

While the Trudeau government would be loath to admit it, Poilievre’s victory quite likely is a consideration, along with the ongoing pressure from border communities and travel groups.

On Wednesday, a federal court will hear a government motion to dismiss the case Karl Harrison et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, which seeks to overturn the vaccine mandates.

The government claims that dropping the domestic vaccine requirements makes the case moot. Dropping the requirements for foreign travellers would strengthen the government’s position, though the group says if it loses in court, an appeal will follow.

We can expect more details in coming days on where exactly the government is going to land, but many travellers appear poised to breathe a maskless sigh of relief.

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