Unvaccinated Canadians will soon be able to fly domestically and overseas, as the federal government is dropping its COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the Star has learned.
The announcement, which is expected Tuesday, includes dropping the public sector requirement that all bureaucrats be vaccinated, as well as clearing the way for unvaccinated Canadians to board planes and trains. It will come into effect June 20.
Foreign travellers, however, will still need to show proof of vaccination and unvaccinated Canadians returning to Canada will need to quarantine.
If circumstances change, the government warns it could readjust measures again.
The question of vaccinate mandates has been thoroughly politicized. Conservative MPs and leadership candidates have been denouncing the apparent second-class treatment of citizens, and have fundraised off of the inability of unvaccinated Canadians to travel.
The Liberal government announced federal mandates two days before the last federal election was called last August. That ensured it was a key issue in the 2021 campaign, one the Liberals used to show their prudent management of the pandemic.
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But it led to much anger and division. The expansion of the COVID vaccine requirement to truckers coming into Canada from the United States — a reciprocal requirement — instigated countrywide protests this past winter. The so-called “Freedom Convoy” occupied Ottawa for three weeks and blocked U.S. border crossings for days.
Getting rid of the mandates has been hotly debated for months within Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.
Some ministers supported the relaxation of rules, arguing that unvaccinated travellers were no more likely to spread the virus than vaccinated travellers. Cabinet reviewed the science, often varying, several times, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos remained concerned the government would be sending Canadians contradictory messages on the benefit of vaccination if the mandates were dropped.
Tuesday’s announcement is expected to include a change in language regarding the idea of being “fully vaccinated.” Two doses is no longer enough, said one government source, noting that six months after a person’s last vaccination their immunity is greatly diminished.
Ottawa will instead encourage Canadians to “stay up to date” with their vaccination. “For most people now, that means three doses,” one source said, adding only 48 per cent of Canadians have three doses. “That is a concern.”
Althia Raj is an Ottawa-based national politics columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @althiaraj
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