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

Sooke’s Amy McLaughlin holds Theodore, a bunny who will be going to a new owner in Nanaimo within the coming days if all goes will at an upcoming bunny play-date. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Sooke woman looking to hop into bigger space for bunny business

Amy McLaughlin has rescued over 400 bunnies across the Island, mainland

The fine for changing lanes or merging over a solid line costs drivers $109 and two penalty points in B.C. (Screenshot via Google Street View)
B.C. drivers caught crossing, merging over solid white lines face hefty fine

Ticket for $109, two penalty points issued under Motor Vehicle Act for crossing solid lines

Saanich council approves of a five-story multi-family development at 300 Gorge Road West and 2900 Tillicum Road. (Rendering via Alan Lowe Architect Inc.)
Saanich approves five-storey, mixed-use development for Tillicum area

Plans include 53 residential units, three commercial units at Tillicum Road, Gorge Road West

Coun. Niall Paltiel of Central Saanich has filed a notice of motion directing staff to work with the WSANEC leadership council to develop a program leading toward the “gradual incorporation of traditional WSANEC names for key collector and arterial roads”(Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich councillor wants road signs to use WSANEC names

Coun. Niall Paltiel proposes ‘gradual incorporation of traditional WSANEC names’ for key roads

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, John Streiker, says he’s outraged that a couple from outside the territory travelled to a remote community this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-POOL
Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine

The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail

Metis Nation of B.C. President Clara Morin Dal Col poses in this undated handout photo. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Metis Nation of B.C. *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Metis Nation of B.C. suspends president, citing ‘breach’ of policies, procedures

Vice-president Lissa Smith is stepping in to fill the position on an acting basis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

Former governors general are entitled to a pension and also get a regular income paid to them for the rest of their lives

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Most Read