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Canada drops vaccine mandates for domestic travel

OTTAWA, Ont. — Unvaccinated Canadians will be able to fly domestically and abroad as of June 20 as the Trudeau government suspends proof-of-vaccination requirements for travel.

The move Tuesday follows months of intensifying pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to abandon Covid-19 public health restrictions. The changes land amid a swirl of questions about whether Ottawa’s mandates even adhere to scientific evidence.

“I know Canadians may wonder, is this too fast or is this too slow?” Dominic LeBlanc, Trudeau’s minister of intergovernmental affairs, infrastructure and communities, told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.

“If the situation takes a turn for the worse, we are prepared to bring back the policies necessary to protect Canadians. We don’t regret at all being cautious when it comes to a virus that has tragically killed tens of thousands of Canadians and millions of people around the world.”

Incoming foreigners, however, will still have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 if they hope to enter the country, while unvaccinated Canadians must continue to adhere to quarantine guidelines upon arrival.

The step announced Tuesday opens the door for unvaccinated Canadians to travel by train, but existing vaccine mandates will remain in place for travelers on cruise ships.

The government also said it would remove vaccine requirements for federal transportation workers and core public servants, including the RCMP.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said all travelers on federally regulated planes, trains and ships will have to continue wearing masks.

The changes arrive as travelers express frustration over hours-long delays at Canadian airports, especially in Toronto. The anger has been directed at the Trudeau government’s Covid policies.

LeBlanc insisted Tuesday’s announcement had nothing to do with wait times. He argued that staffing shortages at airports are to blame for the delays. “The adjustments we’re making today are based on science and they will not have an impact immediately on these airport delays,” he said.

The debates over vaccine mandates have also been front and center in the political arena.

Conservatives, including leadership front-runner Pierre Poilievre, have hammered Trudeau over the requirements, accusing him of stigmatizing those who declined to get vaccinated.

Even members of Trudeau’s Liberal caucus have also opposed the prime minister’s position. In February, backbencher Joël Lightbound delivered a scathing speech that accused Trudeau of dividing Canadians by politicizing vaccine mandates and Covid-19 restrictions.

Last winter, frustration with federal vaccine mandates fueled, at least in part, protests that engulfed downtown Ottawa and blockaded critical Canada-U.S. border crossings, including the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

Trudeau has been accused of inflaming the issue of vaccine hesitancy for his own political gain.

On Day 1 of last year’s election campaign, Trudeau used vaccine mandates as a way to shape the campaign’s subtext.

The government’s strategy also served as a way to encourage more people to get the Covid jabs.

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