Minnesota legislators call for reopening of US-Canada border

A group of Minnesota legislators is calling on the United States and Canada to safely reopen the international border after a year-long closure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to Hubbard Broadcasting affiliate WDIO in Duluth.

The bipartisan group of 19 lawmakers, mostly from the northern part of the state, sent a letter earlier this month to President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging the reopening. Essential workers, including truck drivers, have been allowed to enter Canada, but routine traffic for tourism and shopping has not been allowed.

"Having the U.S-Canadian border open is fundamental to our economy in Northern Minnesota," Sen. Tom Bakk (I-Cook) said in a news release.

"The commerce between both countries helps support communities and Main Street businesses on both sides of the border. I signed this bipartisan letter to make sure the voice of Northern Minnesotans is being heard. We need to get our economy back as quickly as possible from the devastation of the pandemic and to do that we need to safely reopen the border," Bakk said.

The letter says while travel has been impacted statewide during the pandemic, northern Minnesota has seen a "pronounced impact." It cites statistics from the Canadian Consulate that Canadians made 703,000 trips to Minnesota and spent $195 million in the state, and says Minnesotans spend $208 million in Canada each year.

Resort communities that rely on cross-border travel were hit especially hard in 2020.


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"Reopening in time (for) the spring and summer travel seasons is a priority to ensure Northern Minnesota Main Streets can survive the pandemic," the letter states.

The closure has also split families and friends, with only close relatives allowed to cross the border to visit relatives in Canada. In the world of sports, the Thunder Bay Border Cats had to cancel two seasons in a row and some Canadian professional teams have temporarily based themselves in the U.S.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, some Canadian leaders have expressed hesitancy to open the border as the U.S. experiences a higher rate of cases per capita.

Public Health Ontario says that since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 3,275 COVID-19 cases in the two health units which border Minnesota. By comparison, the five Minnesota counties which border Ontario have seen 17,207 cases despite having a combined population that’s about the same as the two Ontario health units.

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is currently under Ontario’s highest level of restrictions with bars and restaurants closed to indoor dining, no indoor public events or social gatherings, and a 25 percent capacity limit on non-essential retailers. Restrictions are not as severe in the Northwestern Health Unit, which includes Fort Frances.