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

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

Kyla Gibson with her boyfriend Gavin Hardy. (Photo used with permission)
Sylvan Lake couple lose ‘fur babies’ to house fire

‘They were our world and nothing will ever replace them,’ Kyla Gibson said of her three pets

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

A 36-year-old Eckville pedophile  was sentenced to 18 years in prison and given a 10-year-long-term supervision order for abusing nearly a dozen children over a decade.
Black Press file photo
Updated: Central Alberta pedophile sentenced to 18 years in prison and declared long-term offender

Eckville man abused nearly a dozen children as young as two over nearly a decade

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

Most Read