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

Just Posted

A their June 15 board meeting, North Okanagan-Shuswap school trustees voted 4-1 to support, in principle, option E5 of School District 83’s Long Range Facilities Plan. This option includes making the Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan and Jackson campuses both Grade 9-12 schools. (File photo)
Decision on Salmon Arm high schools prompts criticism at CSRD board

Proposed Sorrento high school favoured by regional district directors

Splatsin Chief Wayne Christian and Tina William lead the Every Child Matters March in Enderby Monday, June 21. (Lyndsey Leon photo)
Hundreds march with Splatsin in Enderby for #215

300 orange-shirt wearing people of all backgrounds turned out in support

Kelowna artist Bobby Vandenhoorn recently completed mural of late Canadian rock icon and activist Gord Downie now adorns Brenda Dalzell’s Sicamous business, the Bruhn Crossing Urban Market. (Contributed)
Canadian rock legend, activist Gord Downie inspires Sicamous mural

Business owner hopes artwork will help foster ongoing conversations around reconciliation

Yoga with Goats instructor Samantha Richardson gets some attention from one of the goats while stretching on her mat June 15 at O’Keefe Ranch. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Yoga gone to the goats at North Okanagan ranch

Get your downward dog on with some four-legged friends at O’Keefe

With high temperatures forecasted for the week and into the next, Interior Health is offering some tips on how to keep yourself safe from heat-related illness. (Pixabay)
Interior Health offers safety tips as temperatures soar

‘Too much heat can be harmful to your health’

A person stands in a tower on the perimeter of the Number 3 Detention Center in Dabancheng in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on April 23, 2021. Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Schiefelbein
VIDEO: Trudeau demands truth from China about Uyghurs

PM says Canada has admitted broken Indigenous relationship, unlike China on Uyghurs

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, middle right, participates in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in honour of the launch of Kelowna’s plasma donor centre at Orchard Plaza Mall on June 22. From left to right: Canadian Blood Services’ business development manager Janna Pantella, Canadian Blood Services’ operational excellence manager Tyler Burke, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Canadian Blood Services’ centre manager Janine Johns. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
B.C.’s first dedicated plasma donor centre opens in Kelowna

The Kelowna location is the third dedicated plasma donor to open in Canada

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice, and provides Kelowna Capital News with weekly stories from the world of local, national and international law. (Contributed)
Kootnekoff: Access to justice and residential schools in Canada

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, her diverse legal career spans over 20 years

Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back to school on Sept. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Study reassures parents, teachers that COVID-19 infrequently shared at school

Federally funded study in Vancouver finds risk in the classroom and in the community identical

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Single-game sports betting about to become legal in Canada

Senate passes bill to take sports gambling away from overseas agencies

Pam Gretzinger, a teacher at Eagle River Secondary, speaks as graduate Raegen Starkell’s photo is on the drive-in screen on June 17, 2021 in Enderby. (Contributed)
PHOTOS: Eagle River Secondary graduates celebrate under the stars in Enderby

On June 17, students attended a screening of their graduation video at the Starlight Drive-In

Mayla Janzen and Ashley Hoppichler, with her daughters Lily and Sophia, are bringing a Friday evening market to Polson Park, starting July 2. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Entrepreneurs craft up Vernon night market

Friday evening Polson Park event to take place throughout the summer

Wade Cudmore, seen here with his mother Kathy Richardson, had his first court appearance in relation to first degree murder charges in the deaths of Erick and Carlo Fryer Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Kathy Richardson/Facebook)
Man charged in Naramata double homicide appears in Penticton court

Wade Cudmore appeared for the first time in relation to first degree murder charges

Most Read