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Canada’s New PCR Testing Requirement System Draws Controversy

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All arrivals into Canada, including citizens returning home from abroad, must now present proof of a negative PCR test before being permitted to board their flight into the country. The requirement came into place on January 7, 2021.

The new PCR test requirement does not circumvent the blanket 14-day quarantine arrivals still face upon arrival, but instead act as an additional layer of safety and security.

Passengers flying into Canada over 5 years of age will have to provide proof of a negative PCR or LAMP type test, performed no longer than 72 hours prior to arrival in the country.

airport covid mask

Marc Garneau, Canada’s Minister of Transport stated:
“The COVID 19 pandemic is far from over. We need to continue to be vigilant, and we need to continue to take action to reduce the risks of spreading the virus by air travel. This new interim order will help protect Canadians and air travellers. We continue to assess public health risks, as we to work to limit the spread of COVID 19 in Canada.”

Implementation of the new rule has Canadians currently abroad scrambling to fulfill the testing requirement, with many unsure of where to get tests done in the mandatory time frame while in a foreign country.

Some popular vacation destinations like Cuba and Cancun have made public statements on how they will help support Canadians returning home by providing the PCR test they’ll need to board their flight, but other destinations remain increasingly difficult to obtain these types of tests, especially in the 72 hour window.

vancouver airport flight


The new PCR test requirement comes with some controversy, not only because some citizens believe the rule violates their constitutional rights, but also because data from the Calgary ‘testing on arrival’ pilot program shows international arrivals have been between a 0.7%-1.4% infection rate, which is considerably low.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau tweeted that any Canadian citizen that does not provide proof of a negative PCR test will be ‘denied boarding’ on their flight into Canada.

Many believe the new rule goes against both the Canadian charter of rights and international law, which state a citizen cannot be denied entry returning to their own country.

Frustrated passengers and airlines alike are wondering why rapid testing upon arrival at Canadian airports wasn’t implemented instead of the pre-flight testing rule, which would keep control at the hands of Canadian authorities instead of relying on PCR tests from foreign countries, some of which may be unreliable.

Testing arrivals instead of having them bring a 72-hour PCR result also makes data slightly more reliable, as the 3-day window leaves a larger gap of when a passenger could potentially become infected on their way home.

ArriveCan: New Rules For Entry or Return to Canada

WestJet’s CEO Ed Sims had some strong words on the governments pre-flight PCR testing rule, calling it a “cruel outcome” for Canadian airline staff who’ve been hit extremely hard during the entire pandemic.

“The entire travel industry and its customers are again on the receiving end of incoherent and inconsistent government policy. We have advocated over the past 10 months for a coordinated testing regime on Canadian soil, but this hasty new measure is causing Canadian travellers unnecessary stress and confusion and may make travel unaffordable, unfeasible and inaccessible for Canadians for years to come.” 

westjet air canada airport

During the original announcement of the PCR testing rule back in December, the Canadian government noted if a Canadian was unable to obtain a test abroad, they could return to the country and be placed in a government-approved quarantine facility, but no details are yet available on their official travel website. For now, it seems boarding any flight destined for Canada from any nation will not be permitted without proof of test results, without exceptions.

Revisions to this rule will surely have to be made to allow Canadian citizens, especially those in less developed countries, to repatriate to Canada.

Canada's new 72 hour pCR test rule

Temporary Exceptions

In order to give some Canadians a little more time to return home, certain destinations have temporary extensions and exceptions to the new PCR test rule that can into effect on January 7.

Saint Pierre et Miquelon – Travelers coming from Saint Pierre et Miquelon won’t see the new requirement come into effect until January 14th.

The Caribbean or South America – Travelers coming from the Caribbean or South America will see the requirement start on January 7th, but the time frame will be 96 hours instead of 72 hours until January 14th.

Haiti – Travelers coming from Haiti won’t see the new requirement come into effect until January 21st.

No other destination exceptions or extensions have been made at this time.

Land Border Exception

Currently, the PCR test requirement is only valid for arrivals by air. Arrivals through Canada’s land borders do not have to comply with the 72-hour PCR test rule. Land borders are only open to returning citizens and specific categories of essential travelers.

canada usa border - no PCR test needed to cross

Canada Has Some Of The Toughest Border Rules Worldwide

Canada remains one of the only countries in the world that is imposing both a pre-entry PCR test plus a 14-day quarantine to be completed by returning citizens. Most other countries have shortened 14 days quarantines to 10 days as suggested by the CDC, use pre-entry PCR tests to circumvent the quarantine requirement, or use testing on arrival to determine if a passenger needs to quarantine or not.

Citizens returning to Canada with their negative PCT test results will still be required by law to complete the full 14-day quarantine unless they are participating in the ‘test to release’ program in Alberta. The ArriveCan app is also a mandatory requirement for entry, also to be used during the entire quarantine duration, where those in isolation will submit daily information electronically through the app.

ArriveCan check in while in quarantine

“These new measures do not replace any of the previous measures we have put in place to protect Canadians. All travellers must still quarantine for 14 days after they arrive unless explicitly exempt. We continue to strongly advise against travel of any kind, and if anyone doesn’t follow the quarantine requirements, they could face severe penalties. The health and safety of Canadians is our top priority and should be the top priority of every Canadian.”

Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety

Read More: See all of Canada's entry requirements, all the details about using the ArriveCan app, and more information about Calgary's ‘test to release' pilot program

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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling.  Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories


Friday 8th of January 2021

It’s too bad so many Canadians are submissive and passive and allow the government to keep placing horrible restrictions onto our lives. Most Canadians are uneducated and listen to the propaganda when less than 1% of covid cases are caused by travel in our country. The majority of the cases are in nursing homes. How is ruining travel going to fix the deaths of elderly people isolated in private care homes?

This country claims to be a democracy, but ever since the start of this theatre they had no qualms about encroaching on our rights and freedoms. People haven’t seen their family and loved ones for so long, and it’s scary to think we may never see them again because of these never ending lockdowns and restrictions. If you give the government even an inch, they’ll always take a mile. And soon enough, they’ll take everything from us.


Friday 8th of January 2021

This is all in an effort to increase fear, panic and frustration so people will just accept the vaccination. Follow the money. I'm surprised no one sees the connection. Everyone is busy thinking about "Constitutional rights". Perhaps this goes against them but they don't care. They are already injecting you with things that go against your constitutional rights anyway. This is no different. They will continue to do as they please and step all over you. You either need to stand up for your right or pretend as if nothing happened and carry on with the system. The choice is yours.

Victoria Shipowick

Friday 8th of January 2021

Has our government gone completely insane? As if 14 days isolation is not enough. What are they doing to the airline industry and the tourist industry? Their excuse that they are keeping us safe. They are making us frustrated and taking away our right to choose how to keep ourselves safe. We need liberty and freedom not more unreasonable rules.


Friday 8th of January 2021

Such inefficiency by the CA government on this. Also, I have no doubt this is directly against our right of entry into Canada. I really hope this is reworked to allow testing on arrival. Seems like the government is grasping for straws here and as usual, not looking at the supported science. 0.7-1.4 percent coming from travelling overseas, but easy to pin as scapegoats. Is there a petition floating around somewhere deeming this as unconstitutional that people can sign?


Thursday 13th of May 2021

@Kashlee Kucheran, Hi ,

So what happens when you refuse a pcr test ? It is in my rights and freedoms to do do under section 6 and 8 is it not of the canadian charter of rights ?

Kashlee Kucheran

Friday 8th of January 2021

I will have a look into that for you! I completely agree - with less than 1.5% risk of returning travelers who still have to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine, it seems like an uneducated rule put into place to show action rather than results. My guess is that this rule will need to be revised to adhere to the rights of Canadian citizens who cannot get access to these tests.