Don’t look now but our Canada problem is showing again.
Our neighbors to the north are making us look bad one more time, and also shrewdly putting us in a bit of a political pickle.
This week the Canadian government announced, unilaterally, that it would open its border to Americans hoping to visit. Not to just any Americans, though. Starting Aug. 9, the crossing at Blaine and the entire 5,500-mile border will be open only to … vaccinated Americans.
Meaning: About half of us. Canada’s doors are open halfway. If you haven’t gotten both shots, which about half of Americans have not, then you are barred — even if you have a negative COVID-19 test, or have previously had the respiratory disease.
The Canadians are not messing around, either: “A person who submits false information on vaccination status could be liable to a fine of up to $750,000 or six months imprisonment or both, under the Quarantine Act,” the country’s public health agency announced.
Meanwhile our borders remain locked to Canadians who want to come south. Eventually we will open them — maybe soon, as the U.S. government’s recurring border closure order technically expires Wednesday. But the fact that the Canadians went first, and then dropped a vaccine passport system on us, is awkward for all sorts of reasons.
For starters, the reason they did this now is because they have rocketed past us into first place in the vaccination race.
“Canada has gone from a vaccine laggard to a world leader in COVID-19 immunizations in just a few months’ time,” the Canadian public broadcaster CBC trumpeted the other day.
Canada is now one of the tops in the world in COVID-19 protection, with 70% of the population having received at least one vaccine shot. The U.S. has slipped well behind, 14 percentage points below Canada, according to the Our World in Data vaccine tracker.
Despite already being that far ahead, the Canadians’ daily vax rate, adjusted for population, remains six times higher than it is here in the U.S., where the vaccine program has flatlined.
This has all led to a flood of new exports from up north — of smack talk.
“Why would some people rather risk death than get vaccinated? It’s the American way,” the Toronto Star heckled us on Tuesday.
It’s a “tragedy of belligerent self-destruction,” it went on. “The U.S. is among the few countries in the world with the means to quickly extinguish the pandemic within its borders. It lacks only the will.”
That’s cold, Canada. Not wrong, but cold.
Anyway, Canada put the screws to us politically, too. By requiring vaccination for entry, Canada is saying: We’re now number one in the civilized world. If you want to come here, you have to be civilized, too.
As an economics columnist in Canada put it: “When it comes to businesses trying to navigate a high-risk pandemic, Canada looks safer and steadier than most other places — and that’s of great value during a period of so much fear. The extensive precautions and our rising vaccination rates serve us well, as marketing tools as well as in pandemic management.”
In the U.S., though, the vaccine has become another flash point in a culture war. On our side of the border, in Bellingham, it was reported on Tuesday that the sheriff had to be notified because the Whatcom County health director started getting threats after a council member posted her cellphone number on social media and said she needed to be “reined in.” Her crime? Running a campaign to encourage vaccination among 18- to 26-year-olds.
This earned her a slew of angry calls comparing her to the Nazis during the Holocaust. Safe and steady? That’s so Canadian.
Look, I’m against mandatory vaccination. But asking that we do it as a ticket for certain things like travel seems reasonable as part of a global community during an infectious disease pandemic. What Canada is saying is “no shirt, no shoes, no service, America.”
Meanwhile we are paralyzed on this issue. Legislators in 40 states, led by Republicans, have now introduced bills to ban vaccine passports or passes like this (the states have no say over border policy; the principle though is clear, which is that they’re against the idea). The Biden administration seems rudderless on it one way or another. So increasingly other countries are going to be following not our lead on this, but Canada’s.
That’s only going to hurt our border-town businesses, and will leave Americans behind in the recovery.
Being dictated to by Canada? That wasn’t in the cards even a few months ago. Get used to it. Because like Canada, other countries likely will soon pass us in the vaccination race, and then they will be in a strong position to dictate to us, too.
Correction: This article was corrected to say that Canada’s vaccination rate ranks among the world’s best, but isn’t number one (several countries such as Iceland have higher rates, according to the Our World in Data vaccine tracker).