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A decision on reopening the US-Canadian border could be coming soon

The mayor of a Canadian border city says he would be "shocked" if the U.S.-Canada border did not reopen to non-essential travel by June 22.

SEATTLE — There are new indications the U.S.-Canadian border could reopen to non-essential travel sooner rather than later. The mayor of a Canadian border city told KING 5 Tuesday he expects it. 

Through the magic of technology, Windsor, Ontario Mayor Drew Dilkens shared how the view looks from the other side of the border.

“You’re looking at the Detroit River, Detroit’s about two kilometers away, in the frame is actually the General Motors world headquarters,” said Dilkens via Zoom Tuesday. Dilkens has become more vocal over time about the need to reopen the U.S.-Canadian border on which he sits.

It has been closed to non-essential travel since March of 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. But pressure is increasing on both sides to end the closure, or relax restrictions this month.

Dilkens said he was part of a briefing that involved Canadian border mayors and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top deputy, Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair. 

“I'd be shocked if there isn't a reopening of the border by June 22,” Dilkens said. That’s because, according to Dilkens, Blair talked repeatedly about COVID-19 vaccination rates and plans to reopen if certain thresholds are met.

“He never, he never said those words. But every other word and all other indicators lead them, lead me to believe that everything is tracking for a June 22 reopening," said Dilkens. "And so from a Canadian perspective, the prime minister has been very clear that he won't consider reopening the border until at least 75% of the population has a first dose. Minister Blair indicated that we expect Canada to be there by June 21. So, I know there's pressure on the U.S. side for the border to open. Frankly, there's pressure on the Canadian side for families to be able to reunite."

Dilkens sent a letter to Trudeau Tuesday, strongly suggested the prime minister settle the issue with President Joe Biden at the G7 Summit this weekend. There's also pressure from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who just last week sent a letter to the secretary of state and secretary of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. urging them to reopen the border. 

There have already been strong suggestions that the U.S. may adjust its policy, with or without Canada. On Friday, Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, when questioned about the issue, "We're eager to get back to normal, whatever that means, including reopening the border."

“I think we’re still going to have different rules,” said Dr. Laurie Trautman, who heads the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Trautman said it’s possible that Canadians could require proof of vaccination, and the U.S. may not, which would lead to a scenario where there would be a rush of people coming south to get a shot only to have to quarantine for two weeks.

“I also think Canadians are still in a very different mindset than Americans are, because they're fully vaccinated rate is quite low,” said Trautman. 

Trautman also said Canada is better equipped to handle vaccine and contact tracing data and “submit a whole host of information at the land border and at the air border, if the U.S. does not have a similar app in place.”  She said, “You'd have that app on your phone, and you'd submit various pieces of information, including what your quarantine plan might be, some contact tracing information for the government.”

It is likely both governments would signal well in advance of June 21, when the current agreement on non-essential travel is set to expire.

In the meantime, back in Ontario, Dilkens said he’s pitched using the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, in the middle of the Detroit River, to get more people vaccinated. The mayor said he’s hearing from frontline workers about expired doses and said a clinic in the middle of the river could help the situation as well.  

“What's led this initiative in this conversation to try and find practical ways to get some of the surplus vaccine to make sure we can put it into arms to accomplish our shared by national goal, which is to fully vaccinate our populations. I've run into roadblocks every way I turn,” he said, "I think everybody understands and appreciates that when that border opens, there's likely to be some criteria that's beneficial for those who are fully vaccinated.”

One of Windsor’s biggest attractions is the Caesar’s Hotel and Casino, and has been closed for more than a year. When asked if he’d be willing to make a bet at the Casino on the immediate future, Dilkens again, doubled down. 

“Well, I think it's fair to say that if I had $10, and I wanted to bet, I put it all in on the border reopening in some fashion by the end of this month.”