Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the committee for inviting us here today.
I'd like to begin by recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented global crisis that is significantly impacting all aspects of the Canadian transportation industry—travellers, shippers and our economy. During these times, Transport Canada's highest priority is the safety and security of Canadians and the transportation system. This means protecting passenger and crew health and safety as well as ensuring the continued flow of the food and supplies that Canadians need to remain healthy.
That is why, since the earliest stages of the pandemic, Transport Canada has worked hard to introduce a range of layered measures, guidance and requirements to ensure that transportation operations remain safe for workers and passengers. The department's work is informed by the latest science and data as well as the guidance of public health officials and agencies. The Minister of Transport has also exercised his authority to enact measures under several pieces of legislation, including the Canada Marine Act, the Aeronautics Act and the Canada Shipping Act, in the face of this extraordinary situation.
I would like to outline some of the actions taken to date.
The close confines of cruise ships were identified early on as high-risk for spread of the disease. On March 13 the minister announced that the Government of Canada intended to postpone the start of the cruise ship season until at least the end of October. In addition, he also prohibited all Canadian Arctic stops for the entire season.
Even as the government restricted non-essential travel, we worked to help keep the air and marine sectors moving safely and to ensure that supply chains were not disrupted. That is why the government announced, on March 16 and 17, general extensions for some marine personnel certificates and aviation medical certificates.
On March 17 the minister also issued an interim order requiring Canadian air operators to conduct a health check of all air passengers travelling to Canada from international locations. Operators must now deny boarding to any traveller with COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of citizenship. That same day, the minister waived the requirement for ferry operators to make passengers leave their vehicles while on board during the crisis. In the interest of promoting physical distancing, passengers are now allowed to remain in their cars as long as operators put extra safety precautions in place.
Since March 18, all international flights have been directed to only four Canadians airports— Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver—to consolidate available resources for checking international passengers.
On March 19 the Minister of Transport issued an exemption for marine crews entering Canada, deeming them essential. This exemption ensures that food, medicine and other essential products continue to arrive safely at our ports.
On March 21 the Prime Minister announced that the Government of Canada was working with Canadian airlines and foreign governments to provide access to commercial flights for thousands of Canadian travellers who wanted to return home and were faced with challenging circumstances abroad. We also worked with Canadian airlines to ensure that stranded Canadians were offered a reasonable commercial price for return tickets home.
In late March the Minister of Transport took a further step to contain the spread of the virus by requiring all air operators and intercity passenger rail companies to conduct a health check of travellers. They must perform this check on travellers before they board a flight or intercity train in Canada and deny boarding to those with visible signs of the illness.
In early April Transport Canada introduced guidelines to help keep commercial vehicle drivers safe as they carry out their essential work. The department worked with other federal departments, industry representatives and unions to develop the guidelines. A few days later, the department issued guidance allowing commercial drivers to move freely across provincial and territorial borders.
On April 5 several mandatory requirements for commercial marine vessels carrying more than 12 passengers were introduced. Among other changes, these operators were prohibited from engaging in non-essential activities, such as tourism or recreation, and these measures were updated at the end of May. The minister also prohibited Canadian cruise ships from mooring, navigating or transiting in Canadian Arctic waters. Any foreign passenger vessel wishing to enter Canadian Arctic waters must first obtain permission and agree to conditions to protect marine personnel and local communities.
Under these changes, ferries and other essential passenger vessels can continue to operate, but at half their maximum capacity, or introduce other practices that align with Public Health Agency of Canada guidelines to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
This could include keeping people in their vehicles, when feasible, or enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures.
In addition, to better protect employees and passengers, Transport Canada issued guidelines to ferry operators similar to those for air and intercity rail passengers. Ferry operators must now screen passengers for signs of COVID-19 before boarding, and deny boarding to anybody showing signs of the illness.
As I mentioned, the safety and security of Canadians and the transportation system remain our top priority. That’s why, effective April 20, it was announced that all air travellers must wear a non-medical mask or face covering over their mouth and nose when going through security, when boarding and when on the plane when physical distancing guidelines cannot be maintained. Air passengers on flights to or from Canadian airports must show that they have the necessary non-medical mask or face covering at boarding or they will not be allowed to board the plane. In addition, we have encouraged anyone travelling by train, boat, bus or ferry to also wear face coverings whenever possible.
Furthermore, the operators of ferries and essential passenger vessels now provide public messaging to travellers about the need for a face covering during their journey. The messaging stresses the need for passengers to use them to cover their mouth and nose when they cannot maintain physical distance from others.
In May, the Minister of Transport extended the prohibition of cruise ships with overnight accommodations for more than 100 people until October 31, 2020. Those with no overnight accommodations, and those that carry fewer than 100 people overnight, are deferred until at least July 1 of this year.
Earlier this month, the minister announced the expansion of the requirements for the use of face coverings for workers and others involved in the transportation sector. Also, as of the end of June, air operators will be required to conduct temperature screenings at the point of departure for all passengers on international flights entering Canada. This will apply regardless of a passenger's point of origin.
By the end of July, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority will also be responsible for screening passengers’ temperatures as part of the departure procedures for domestic, transborder and international flights. It will also check the temperatures of airport and aviation personnel before they enter the restricted areas of airports, to help maintain a healthy and safe space for travellers and workers alike.
We acknowledge that the transportation system is vital for the restart of our economy and for our quality of life. It is vital for our safety and security. As the situation continues to evolve, Transport Canada is working closely with other levels of government and with senior transportation sector representatives to tailor our approach to protecting Canadians. We communicate daily with representatives from across federal, provincial and territorial government departments and agencies, from the private sector and labour organizations and from indigenous communities.
On behalf of Transport Canada, I'd like to take a moment to recognize and thank workers across the transportation sector. In the face of challenges, they are keeping people and goods moving, ensuring that our country remains safe for all of us. Transport Canada employees, such as on-the-ground inspectors and many others, are so very critical for getting supplies to people and sustaining the Canadian economy. We appreciate all of their efforts as they continue to work with us and for Canadians.
My colleagues and I would be happy to answer any of your questions.