Vehicles in Québec approaching the crossing at Highgate Springs
Vince Illuzzi III, 19, has been crossing the Canadian border almost every day since he was an eighth-grader at Stanstead College, 10 minutes north of his home in Newport. He’s now a student at Concordia University in Montréal.
Though the line is a lot shorter these days than it was a few years ago, Illuzzi said, the crossing goes much more slowly. And what used to take 30 seconds, he said, now eats up five minutes.
“I have to have my vaccination card, and I have to present a negative COVID test I took within three days," said Illuzzi. "They seem to be a bit more strict.”
As a student, Illuzzi has been able to cross the border throughout the pandemic. He’s exempt from the rules that have halted vacationers and many others whose travel is considered nonessential.
While Canada now allows fully vaccinated U.S. tourists to enter, business groups are frustrated that the White House hasn’t reciprocated for southbound drivers. As the rules stand now, Canadian tourists can fly into the U.S., but they can’t drive. The restriction, which has been in place since the pandemic began, has curtailed the tourist travel on which many Vermont businesses rely.
The White House ban on Canadian drivers is due to end Saturday, August 21. Last Friday, the Lake Champlain Chamber and other business associations asked the White House in writing not to renew the restriction.
“The Canadian government recognized that the continued border closure was unnecessary and damaging,” says the letter, which was also signed by business groups in border cities in New York State, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“While Canada’s border policy will still be quite restrictive, Canada is at least attempting to address this problem,” the letter says. “However, the U.S. has not offered Canadian travelers the same courtesy.”
The group hasn’t heard back, Cathy Davis, president of the Lake Champlain Chamber, said Monday.
A report from St. Michael’s College professor Jeffrey Ayres, released in April, said personal travel had dropped 97 percent between Montréal and eastern New York and Vermont in the first year of the border closure. Truck travel only declined 7 percent, Ayres said, because commercial traffic was considered essential. He said ski pass sales at Jay Peak dropped 30 percent.
With COVID-19 infection rates rising in Québec and the Northeast, some travelers might choose not to cross the border even if the option became available.
“I think a lot of it is dependent on this COVID variant,” said Vermont Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein, of the Delta strain. “What we’re finding and hearing is that there are cancellations of in-person conferences and the like out of an abundance of caution, not mandates.”
Illuzzi has already seen the caution at school in Montréal. He planned to start the semester attending three classes in person and one online. But one more has gone remote, with another expected to follow, he said.
Tim Smith, the mayor of St. Albans, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the southbound ban on Canadian travelers were extended another month. St. Albans lies a few miles south of the border. Local businesses have adapted to survive without Canadian travelers, he said.
“It’s frustrating, because we do have a lot of Canadians here who are second-homeowners in Franklin County, and they have been unable to access their properties,” he said. He added staff from his office talk regularly with the offices of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
“We don’t get a whole lot of feedback," he said. "It is what it is."