Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Professional athletes the main beneficiary of national interest exemptions at border

Several ministers and senior public health officials can authorize exemptions

Four national interest exemptions to COVID-19 border restrictions, covering 1,300 professional athletes, have been issued by the federal immigration minister, his office confirmed Wednesday.

The details came after MPs at the House of Commons immigration committee were told by departmental officials that 1,300 national interest exemptions had been issued.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s office was forced to clarify late Wednesday the details of the national interest exemptions he’s authorized after the number surfaced at a House of Commons immigration committee hearing earlier in the day.

Mendicino was grilled on how many people had been allowed into Canada using the exemption, which admits those who don’t qualify under current COVID-19 related restrictions, or to skip the mandatory 14 day quarantine when they arrive.

Who has access to that program has been a source of public debate, especially throughout the summer and fall as thousands of families placed sustained public pressure on Mendicino to loosen the border restrictions to allow more families to reunite.

Several ministers and senior public health officials can authorize exemptions.

When asked Wednesday by Conservative MP Raquel Dancho how many exemptions he had authorized, Mendicino deferred to his departmental officials, who told the committee 1,300 were granted.

His office later said the official “misspoke” and the figure reflects the 1,354 people covered by four national interest exemptions Mendicino approved: two for the National Hockey League (one for players, the second for team officials,) one for pre-season training for Major League Baseball, and one for Major League Soccer.

They were all exempt from quarantine because their leagues had COVID-19 mitigation plans cleared by public health.

How the exemptions have been used is one of several issues being raised as MPs examine the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the immigration system.

The initial border closure rules meant that only essential workers and a very limited list of family members of citizens of permanent residents could enter Canada.

Families members not covered by those exemptions, including adult children, common-law spouses, grandparents and siblings became increasingly vocal about being shut out, noting there wasn’t enough freedom given even for compassionate cases, such as family members being near death.

Mendicino relented in October, launched a new program to facilitate entry for more family members, and a compassionate program, and later pledged applications would be decided upon 14 days.

Opposition MPs pressed him Wednesday on that commitment, with both the NDP and Conservatives saying they were aware of many people who were not receiving decisions by that deadline, nor any guidance from the department on when they might.

Mendicino promised to review specific cases.

His office said later that out of 29,000 requests, 19,000 have been decided upon so far. About 80 per cent have been completed within the promised 14 days, with the remainder applications that are incomplete or have other issues.

Processing time is currently around 11 days, and an additional team of 30 staff were added to the program last week.

READ MORE: Time running short for NHL to start next season Jan. 1

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusPro sports

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

TEASE PHOTO: Teens at the Bumpers dance club in Whalley in the 1980s, in a photo posted to the "Bumpers / The Zone OFFICIAL Party Page" on Facebook.com.
SURREY NOW & THEN: Bumpers and other teen dance clubs were big in the 1980s

A weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites and events

Gurinder Mann. (Submitted photo)
Surrey man receives prestigious restorative justice award

East Newton resident Gurinder Mann one of five to receive a Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service looking to hire in-house lawyer

Solicitor to work within Office of the Chief Constable, serve on internal and external committees to ‘represent the SPS’s interests’

Surrey RCMP say that after checking on a “semi-conscious” driver in Whalley on Jan. 20, 2021, officers found about 21 grams of suspected cocaine, 68 grams of suspected fentanyl, about $1,400 in case, a stolen shotgun and ammunition. (Photo: Surrey RCMP handout)
Surrey RCMP say ‘semi-conscious’ driver found with drugs, gun

Officer saw ‘open alcohol and suspected drugs’ inside the vehicle, police say

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Competitors make their way through the course at the 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships, which was hosted by Abbotsford in 2019. (File photo)
Abbotsford to host 2023 Canadian Cross Country Championships

Clearbrook Park last hosted the event in 2019, Ottawa hosting 2021 and 2022 races

Officers investigate the scene after a pedestrian was struck and killed on Friday morning. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Male pedestrian, 37, killed in Abbotsford after being struck by vehicle

Collision took place in 31800 block of South Fraser Way on Friday morning

Most Read