Since the onset of the pandemic, the rules about who can enter Canada have been confusing and hard to keep up with at times. A particularly hard hit group has been "immediate family members" of Canadians. The temporary travel ban enacted under the Quarantine Act has consistently defined "immediate family members" as the spouse or common-law spouse of a Canadian; a dependent child of a Canadian; the parent or step-parent of a Canadian or their spouse or common-law partner; or the guardian or tutor of a Canadian. However, it has not always been clear who can enter and when, nor have the changes thus far to the rules been sufficient for all family members or loved ones of Canadians.

Initially, the COVID-19 travel ban did not apply to "immediate family members" of Canadians so long as the purpose for their entry was not discretionary or optional. In the first few months of the pandemic, this meant airline personnel and border services officers were assessing whether a person's stated purpose was discretionary. One person coming to visit their Canadian spouse for a few weeks may have been turned away while another in the exact same circumstances may have been let through depending on which officer they got.

In June 2020, the travel restrictions were revised so that immediate family members of Canadians could enter regardless of their purpose so long as they could show they were coming for a period of at least 15 days to be with their Canadian family members. Inherently, this seemed to accept that anyone coming in for a period for at least fifteen days was not coming in for an "optional" or "discretionary purpose" and took some of the pressure off of travellers who no longer needed to convince an officer their travel was essential. Those seeking to come for less than 15 days have continued to be exempt from the travel ban but remain subject to the "non-discretionary"/"non-optional" rule.

The June changes regarding immediate family members have remained in place up to now. Last week, the federal government announced that further expansion to the exception would be released on October 8, 2020. The proposed changes will allow grandparents, siblings, and adult children of Canadians (not currently exempt) to enter in certain circumstances. Other foreign nationals seeking entry for compassionate reasons such as critical illness or death are also expected to be included in the changes. Stay tuned for further updates.

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