OTTAWA — Unvaccinated truckers bringing COVID-19 vaccines and medical devices into Canada to combat the pandemic are exempt from testing and quarantine requirements at the border, a government order says.
The exemption is due to the "urgent public health necessity" of the supplies they are transporting, Health Canada states.
The government has given exemptions from testing and quarantine rules for certain people crossing the border into Canada to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
They include unvaccinated and vaccinated people invited by the health minister to help with the COVID-19 “response."
A spokeswoman for Health Canada said in a statement that this exemption requires a ministerial invitation and had been “rarely used.” She said it had been used, for example, to help with the supply of ventilators.
The exemption is one of a number set out in an order-in-council published last month that outlines decisions made by cabinet, such as regulations or appointments.
Drivers dropping off students on either side of the U.S.-Canada border at a college, school or university are also exempt from quarantine and testing requirements, the order says.
The order makes clear that unvaccinated truckers are not exempt from the testing and quarantine requirement in other circumstances. They must obtain a pre-arrival COVID-19 test, quarantine and undergo COVID-19 molecular testing in Canada.
The restrictions on unvaccinated cross-border truckers have caused much political debate in Canada and are ostensibly a major sticking point for the protesters camped outside Parliament Hill.
But the order reveals that unvaccinated truckers can avoid the border requirements if they are transporting medical supplies, including products with a drug identification number, such as medications and vaccines authorized for use in Canada.
Medical devices are also covered by the exemption. Health Canada did not specify whether it included masks, gowns or COVID-19 tests.
“The purpose of this amendment is to clarify that those involved in commercial transport who are transporting medically necessary supplies remain exempt from the vaccination requirement to enter Canada,” Health Canada said in a statement.
Health Canada said the exemption covered individuals, including those involved in commercial transport, who are delivering, picking up or fixing medical equipment and supplies.
The statement said “any proportion of a delivery that is medically necessary and is being delivered to a health-care facility or supply distribution centre is sufficient to qualify the person for this exemption.”
The Canada Border Services Agency created confusion last month after it issued a statement to media saying that unvaccinated truckers would remain exempt from quarantine and testing requirements after entering the country at the Canada-U.S. border.
The federal government said the next day the statement had been sent in error, but not before some unvaccinated big-riggers had already been dispatched across the border.
The Canadian Press revealed the confusion over whether truckers were exempt stemmed from bureaucrats misinterpreting policy at both the border services agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada, including whether an order-in-council covered truckers or not. They had thought that they would remain exempt as "crew members."
The updated order-in-council makes clear that unvaccinated truckers are not counted as crew members and are therefore not generally exempt from testing and quarantine rules.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2022.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press