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City Council to debate whether our border crossing should re-open

'Coun. Shoemaker has a lot of great ideas. That was not one of them' - Ward 5 Coun. Corey Gardi
20170511 Essar Steel Algoma KA 05
A transport truck drives toward the Canadian point of entry on the International Bridge at sunset with Algoma Steel in the background. File photo by Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

At City Council's next meeting on July 13, councillors are expected to debate whether Sault Ste. Marie's border crossing should re-open to U.S. citizens travelling for tourism, recreation, entertainment or other non-essential reasons.

Mayor Christian Provenzano is predicting council will easily pass a resolution calling on the federal government to keep the travel ban in place here.

But Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Shoemaker is expected to push for re-opening the border at Sault Ste. Marie, even if other parts of the province aren't ready.

"We are bit of a unique border town," Shoemaker says. "We're on the border of a very isolated place with a very low COVID rate."

"The regional approach that we encouraged to the re-opening of the Ontario economy, I think could work in certain instances with the border, such as ours," Shoemaker said at last week's City Council meeting.

"I would say it probably wouldn't work in other border cities, but I do think it is something the federal government should look at – opening border areas that [have] very low infection rates like our neighbouring community of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan."

"I know that they miss us. I think that given their circumstances – which are not akin to the circumstances elsewhere in the U.S. and even elsewhere in Michigan – a regional approach makes sense."

But Ward 5's Corey Gardi wasn't having any of it.

"Coun. Shoemaker has a lot of great ideas. That was not one of them, in my estimation," Gardi said.

No other member of City Council spoke up to support Shoemaker's proposal.

"I understand your point," the mayor told Shoemaker. "We have this special relationship and we want our friends from across the river to come here, but if that border was just opened, I think you could be certain to see a flood to it, see a lot of people try to pass at that point, independent of their residency."

"I don't think you'd be able to say: 'If you live in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, well you can come over, but if you don't live in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and you live in either Detroit or some city in Florida or Texas, you can't come here.'"

"My primary concern is the health and wellbeing of the folks who live on this side," Provenzano said.

"I think the closure's had a really dramatic effect on their economy because we were so much an active part of their economy and their community. But the reality is that the United Sates hasn't dealt with this in such a way where I think leaders in Canada can be comfortable that it's not a significant risk."

"We're asking our citizens to make a lot of sacrifices. And the nature of those sacrifices is to mitigate the risk for each other and for our communities. I don't know how you ask people to make all these sacrifices to mitigate risk and then you make a public policy decision like opening a border that would introduce a significant amount of risk."

"The United States is four per cent of the world's population, and of the 10 million cases they have 2.5 million. Of the 500,000 deaths that we know about, they've got 125,000," the mayor told Shoemaker.

"So they represent 25 per cent of the cases and 25 per cent of the deaths. It's not slowing down a lot of places."

Provanzano said he's organized recent teleconferences to discuss the issue with mayors from other Ontario border communities.

"The mayor of Windsor and I haven't connected yet but I've connected with the remainder of the mayors I set out to connect with. They all share the position that I have, that the border should not open so long as things remain the way they are in the United States."

"The strong feeling is that things have to substantially change in the United States before the border opens," the mayor said.

"We would want to be engaged and consulted as border city mayors that are more directly affected before the federal government was to make a decision to open the border."

"I'm not sure that the testing has been where it needs to be to determine that the virus isn't as prevalent in the Upper Peninsula as it may be elsewhere."

"I think there's a difference between regional openings when we're all part of the same province and subject to the same legislation and governing body, than there would be to selective openings on a national border where you were allowed to come in one place," Provenzano said.

Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth said Sault retailers tell her they're missing U.S. visitors but still support the border closure at this time.

Hollingsworth says she's hearing the same message from businesses on St. Joseph Island and the North Shore.

"Even though they depend on the Americans for their businesses, they're still happy to hear that the border is closed to make sure that this virus is managed and we are protected," she said.

Last month, Michigan Sault Mayor Don Gerrie told SooToday his community misses its Canadian visitors.

“Some businesses reflect 50 per cent of revenue from Canadian shoppers,” Jeffrey Holt, executive director of the Sault Ste. Marie [Michigan] Economic Development Corp. said. “It’s had a devastating effect on us from a COVID standpoint, but it’s kind of a double whammy for us with the Canadian border being closed.”

The Canadian government's ban on non-essential visits to Canada by U.S. travellers was introduced on March 16.

It was recently extended to July 31. 

Canada Border Services Agency says foreign nationals trying to enter Canada from the United States must prove they:

  • are travelling for a non-discretionary (essential) purpose or are only transiting or are an immediate family member
  • are not presenting signs or symptoms of COVID-19
  • have a plan to quarantine for 14 days, unless exempted

Exceptions may be made for diplomats, air crew and immediate family members of Canadian citizens, as well as some caregivers, seasonal workers and international students.