Canadian ambassador calls for close coordination in handling of US border

Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman on Friday urged careful coordination between Canada and the U.S. following the announced extension of restrictions on nonessential travel between the two countries for another month. 

“The prime minister and the president agreed in February that we would stay in close consultation on how we address the border,” Hillman said in a sit-down interview with The Hill.

“It doesn't mean we'll necessarily do things exactly the same way, we may not. But it does mean that we will try to have clear information for both Canadians and Americans and coordinators moving forward.”

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Hillman’s call for ongoing cooperation came in response to a question about demands from Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikGOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Former speed skater launches bid for Stefanik seat House GOP leaders say vaccine works but shouldn't be mandated MORE (N.Y.), the recently elected chair of the House Republican Conference, that the Biden administration take unilateral steps to ease coronavirus restrictions for nonessential travel.

Stefanik, whose district in upstate New York abuts the Canadian border, said in a Friday statement that extending the border restrictions to July 21 is "absolutely unacceptable to the families, businesses, and communities along the northern border."

The third-ranking House Republican had earlier sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasHillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee MORE demanding unilateral action on the border crossings. 

“I’ve called on the Biden administration to begin taking unilateral steps toward easing restrictions for families and property owners, and the failure to do so is unacceptable for our northern border communities,” she said in her statement Friday. 

Reps. Brian HigginsBrian HigginsBiden administration stokes frustration over Canada Canadian ambassador calls for close coordination in handling of US border House GOP campaign arm adds to target list MORE (D-N.Y.) and Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), co-chairs of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, also criticized the ongoing border restrictions.

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“The lack of transparency surrounding these negotiations is a disservice to our constituents and the millions of residents on both sides of the border waiting to see their loved ones, visit their property, and renew business ties,” they said in a joint statement.

“While the arrival of vaccines in record time has been a modern marvel, the inability of the U.S. and Canadian governments to reach an agreement on alleviating border restrictions or aligning additional essential traveler classes is simply unacceptable,” they added. 

Hillman said she believes that "approaching this in a coordinated manner is better for clarity, for predictability and just for frankly operational management of our border."

Hillman, who has served at the helm of the Canadian Embassy since August 2019, said that both Canada and the U.S. reserve the right to act in their best interests, but she spoke out against unilateral measures. 

“At a technical level, our people have exchanged information every month. From a policy perspective we've stayed in close touch as to whether or not the measures that we put in place are achieving the policy goals that they were meant to,” she said. 

The U.S. and Canada exchange more than $2 billion daily related to goods and services and share incredibly close people-to-people ties. Maintaining trade throughout the pandemic is an essential mission for Canadian and U.S. officials. 

The ambassador added that changes to Canada’s quarantine policy for fully vaccinated travelers are likely to be announced on Monday. Currently land travelers must quarantine for 14 days and air travelers must stay three-days in a hotel plus a two-week quarantine, on top of testing requirements. 

Top priority for Canada is increasing the number of vaccinated individuals for the eventual resumption of nonessential travel, an effort the U.S. has helped bolster by delivering 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March and, on Thursday, providing 1 million Moderna vaccines.  

Hillman called the 1 million doses an “important contribution” that is in the interest of both the U.S. and Canada. 

“I think it's recognized that it's good for the United States, and it's good for Canada," she said. “It will aid in economic recovery as we are both vaccinated and able to start moving back and forth between our countries.”

Hillman said that Canada is coming out of a “pretty tricky, difficult, third-wave” of the virus. More than 28 million vaccine doses have been administered and cases have continued to drop from a peak in April. The World Health Organization has recorded more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in Canada for the week ending June 7. 

Hillman's remarks are part of a larger interview looking at her first official year of a four-year tenure, which is set to be published on Wednesday.