The flags of the United States, Canada and the state of Maine fly near downtown Houlton, only three miles from the U.S.-Canada border. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Canada has taken its first steps toward relaxing its strict border closure with the United States, ending quarantine requirements for family members, dual citizens and others who qualify to travel across.

Though it renewed the non-essential travel ban until at least the end of July, Canada announced that starting July 5 it would ease restrictions on those already eligible to cross. It marks the first time in 15 months that dual citizens and those with family in Canada can travel without quarantining, provided they meet the Canadian government’s requirements for entry. But the remaining restrictions are too great a hurdle for some, even with family waiting on the other side.

Travelers looking to avoid quarantine measures must upload proof they’ve been fully inoculated onto the ArriveCAN app, as well as contact information and a potential plan for quarantine in the event they develop symptoms. They must also provide a negative COVID-19 test and agree to take an additional test in Canada.

“There are still far too many restrictions for someone who [was] born in Canada to be treated as a ’guest’,” said Manon Raymond, a dual citizen and Madawaska selectman. She missed a family funeral this year due to the restrictions on cross-border travel. “[It’s] government overreach and control I don’t agree with. I will wait until the border reopens, which is very sad with my family who is there.”

Raymond is far from the only northern Mainer hesitant to cross despite painful months of separation from family in Canada. Leola Cyr, also of Madawaska, has siblings, children and grandchildren in Canada. For her, it’s been a long 15 months and she’s beginning to fear border travel will remain restricted as late as the holidays this year.

“It’s a delay every month,” Cyr said. “They mentioned the 21st this month but it was the 21st the month before.”

Although restrictions are easing, the remaining barriers complicate trips across the border — which is just yards from Cyr’s back door. She worries that in the event of a family emergency, especially given that she and her siblings are older, she wouldn’t be able to cross in time. In an ideal world, Cyr would like to see restrictions dropped entirely everywhere north of Houlton.

Despite fears of another closure extension, further reopening of the border may be on the horizon. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said that additional plans for reopening were in the works, and expected details to be made public over the coming weeks.

The current travel ban is set to expire on July 21, at which point the U.S. and Canada will either have to renew the ban, as has been done every month since March 2020, or let the ban expire.

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Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.