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Strike by Canadian border officers could stall border opening

The strike could happen as soon as Aug. 6, three days before the border opens to vaccinated U.S. residents.

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A strike by Canadian border officers threatens to shut down the U.S.-Canada border as soon as Aug. 6, 2021, three days before vaccinated U.S. citizens can begin entering Canada again. (File / Grand Forks Herald)
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Just as many U.S. residents were celebrating their ability to travel to Canada starting Aug. 9, a strike by Canadian border officers threatens to effectively shut down the border.

Strike votes were held earlier in July. The unions for more than 8,500 Canada Border Services Agency officers announced Tuesday that an overwhelming majority of their members voted to strike as soon as Aug. 6.

While a number of border officers would be deemed essential workers and required to stay on the job, a strike would almost certainly cause delays for those traveling by air and land.

Canadian officials announced July 19 that fully vaccinated U.S. residents could enter the country if they test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of entry and follow other procedures.

The border employees — members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Customs and Immigration Union — have been without a contract for over three years. They are seeking better protections against a “toxic workplace culture at CBSA” and greater pay parity with other law enforcement agencies across Canada. The union declared an impasse and applied for a Public Interest Commission ruling after Canada Border Services Agency and Canada Treasury Board were unwilling to address these concerns.

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“Our members at CBSA have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, and many have contracted COVID-19 while working,” Chris Aylward, PSAC national president, said in a statement Tuesday. “They’ve kept our borders safe, screened travelers entering Canada, and ensured the rapid clearance of vaccine shipments. Now it’s time for the government to step up for them the way they’ve stepped up for Canadians.”

U.S. still not allowing Canadians to enter

While Canada moved to open its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens, so far the Biden administration has not responded in kind.

The U.S. government on July 21 extended the closure of the land borders with Canada and Mexico to nonessential travelers until at least Aug. 21.

The announcement by the Department of Homeland Security came two days after the Canadian government announced it would begin letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens into Canada on Aug. 9, and those from the rest of the world Sept. 7.

“Given the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of COVID-19 within the United States and globally, the Secretary (of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas) has determined that the risk of continued transmission and spread of the virus associated with COVID-19 between the United States and Canada poses an ongoing ‘specific threat to human life or national interests,’” the announcement said.

The decision means Canadians still can’t enter the Northland to shop, visit friends or attend events in places like International Falls and Duluth, which typically attract large numbers of Ontario visitors annually for events like the Bayfront Blues Festival.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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