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Few exceptions for Canada's continued closure to Americans

The Watson Lake sign post forest in Canada's Yukon Territory probably won't be getting a lot of new signs from the U.S. for a while, thanks to coronavirus travel restrictions. The "forest" on the Alaska Highway was started by an American soldier as the highway was being built during World War II, and now has more than 80,000 signs from around the world.

STARS AND STRIPES

By SHANNON MCMAHON | Special To The Washington Post | Published: February 25, 2021

This week, officials moved to extend the closure of U.S.-Canada land borders until March 21, which will mark a full year of suspended land movement between the two countries. The borders first closed on March 21, 2020, and the order has been extended each month since.

A joint decision was made to extend the U.S.-Canada land borders' nonessential travel restrictions to "prevent the further spread of COVID-19," the Department of Homeland Security tweeted Friday, adding that it is "also working to ensure essential trade and travel remain open."

Americans have been unable to visit Canada since early 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions, though Canadians have been permitted to enter the United States, which has a higher coronavirus-spread rate, by air. As the pandemic has dragged on, exemptions to the ban have been created for a few groups of Americans, who are able to visit Canada for reunification. The only other types of entry permitted are for long-term work or education visas.

Some high-profile Americans have recently been seen taking advantage of both programs during the pandemic: National Football League quarterback Aaron Rodgers made headlines recently for visiting fiancee Shailene Woodley in Montreal for two weeks while she was filming a movie in the area, according to E! Canada. Comedian Chelsea Handler has also shared on social media that she is in Canada for the winter for work purposes.

People with family members or significant others in Canada might be wondering if they too could travel to Canada despite the border closure and new quarantine and testing requirements. Here's what officials say qualifies as an exemption from the rule.

Visits to immediate family or a significant other

Canadian border officials note that all visitors, regardless of their travel exemption, must follow the health protocols. New variants of the coronavirus recently moved Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to impose new quarantine restrictions and testing requirements for entry that went into effect on Feb. 15 and Sunday.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), told The Washington Post in an email that while it cannot comment on individual cases for border-crossing exemption, "there are specific border measures with regards to foreign nationals who are an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and are seeking to enter Canada." The agency says there is also a process to unite with an immediate family member who is a nonresident and in Canada temporarily.

Immediate family members include a spouse or a partner of at least one year, a dependent child or grandchild, a parent or stepparent, or a guardian for a minor.

'Compassionate' visits

Canada has also developed processes to allow travelers attempting to enter Canada for "compassionate reasons," which include visits to hospitals and funerals, as well as long-term care facilities including nursing home and hospice centers.

"Individuals must submit a signed letter of required support or proof of death as well as any necessary site visit authorizations" to visit funerals or care centers, according to the border authority. Fabricating these reasons or documents is punishable under Canada's Quarantine Act by up to six months in prison and $750,000 in fines.

Visiting a significant other

Exceptions are not just for immediate family, and they can be granted to extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, including "those in long-term exclusive relationships" according to officials.

In October 2020, Canada relaxed the terms for family members or significant others of Canadians to enter for family visits. Those terms allow Canadians' spouses, children, grandchildren and partners "in an exclusive dating relationship" who have been in the relationship for at least one year to enter for visits as long as they test negative for the coronavirus before arrival and quarantine for 14 days upon entry.

Everyone else

For those who have not been able to enter Canada in over a year, Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., is leading a joint call in Congress for the Biden administration to reach new terms for a Canadian border reopening.

"Minimizing the risk presented by COVID-19 and prioritizing the safety of our communities remains of utmost importance while the U.S. and Canada work to overcome this public health crisis," wrote seven members of Washington state's congressional delegation led by DelBene.

"However, as we approach one year of restricted travel, individuals, families, businesses, and communities on both sides of the border have been significantly impacted by these restrictions."