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I am a Canadian citizen currently in the United States.

After calling CBSA at 1-204-983-3500, they indicated that returning to Canada right now would be considered "non-essential". Does that mean as a Canadian citizen, I would be denied entry to Canada? Wouldn't this be illegal/unconstitutional to deny a Canadian citizen entry to Canada?

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    What is your status in the US? Do you have somewhere to live? What is the reason you want to return now? These things are part of whether it's essential or not... – Kate Gregory Mar 22 at 1:28
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    The Canadian Government travel advice specifically advises Canadians to return to Canada. I suspect somebody in the CBSA is taking things a bit too literally. – Arthur's Pass Mar 22 at 1:32
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    @Arthur'sPass I submit that you're reading that advice a bit too literally. Clearly it should not apply to Canadians who reside abroad, for example. – phoog Mar 22 at 5:58
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    @emory in general, restrictions on the right of free movement are permissible if they are in the service of public health. If Canada does not have the capacity to admit and quarantine returning citizens, then a decision to refuse entry to Canada could in fact be legal and constitutional. – phoog Mar 22 at 16:18
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    "Wouldn't this be illegal/unconstitutional" Entire countries are going in lockdown, state of emergency declared. In the current situation, a lot of things are legal that wouldn't have been otherwise. Please keep that in mind. – Mast Mar 23 at 14:36
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According to this tweet from Public Safety Canada about the border restrictions on non-essential travel across the US-Canada border starting March 21, under "Permitted Travel", it includes:

Canadian citizens, permanent residents and status Indians can cross back into Canada.

So you should not be denied entry to Canada.

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    I will just add that everybody should keep checking for latest announcements. Rules are changing every day. – VarunAgw Mar 24 at 12:24
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The messaging is not 100% clear on this. However it appears that Canadian citizens and permanent residents returning home will be considered essential travel and will be admitted. However if you are resident abroad then you will be admitted only if your travel is essential, even if you are a Canadian citizen. If your reason for travel is not essential you will be turned away at the border, and if you have Covid-19 symptoms you might also be turned away. Being a citizen does not automatically get you admitted for any reason.

Moreover if your reason for wanting to return is non-essential then you would be strongly advised not to travel from where you are now to the Canadian border, and doing so may be contrary to local regulations in the US, depending on where you are. Such travel, and subsequent travel from the border to your home would increase the risk of being infected and infecting others.

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  • Not exaclty true, according to PM Trudeau if you have symptoms you might be denied entry, even if you are a citizen. – yms Mar 22 at 13:14
  • It seems I was wrong. Edited. – DJClayworth Mar 22 at 16:02
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    I would stress the word "might' in @yms's comment, and note that the article you linked to says 'Blair noted that Canadians in “extraordinary circumstances” will be given leeway at the border.' So, for example, a Canadian resident who was non-essentially traveling in the US before the ban took effect will almost certainly be allowed to return home after it takes effect. Similarly, "There is an expectation that border officers will exercise the appropriate discretion in determining those in exceptional and extraordinary circumstances if the travel is in fact essential." – phoog Mar 22 at 16:23
  • That's not my interpretation of "extraordinary circumstances". But it does say there might be leniency. – DJClayworth Mar 22 at 21:09
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    Incorrect. Canadian citizens and PRs can return back. Same for US citizens and PRs. – Umur Kontacı Mar 22 at 21:14
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My wife, a Canadian citizen, and I, a U.S. citizen but a Canadian Permanent Resident, returned from the U.S. to Canada on Saturday, March 21. We had been snowbirds in Florida since November.

Things may change, but the Prime Minister has called for Canadians to come home. In driving, we passed numerous motorhomes and 5th-wheels with Quebec plates. At customs, we said we were asymptomatic (which we are), and were told that we were to go straight home and isolate ourselves there for 14 days, with absolutely NO leaving of the property.

We are much relieved to be home in Canada, where good neighbors pre-stocked our fridge and pantry and turned on the heat and lights for us.

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Not directly an answer to the original question, and IANAL, but...

At least for the practice in the Old World, so hopefully applicable in similar legislations elsewhere, citizens have a constitutional right to return to their home country. Nowhere else it says however what happens afterwards - e.g. by current extreme-measures laws, they can be subject to quarantine lock-down, maybe not in their home but some other facility. But as long as it is on the country's territory, the constitutional right to cross the border homewards has been fulfilled.

There is no guarantee whether you'd soon get to the actual home (building) or not.

Here in Europe, generally people with permanent residence visas are also allowed to enter. Generally nobody is allowed to leave (except foreign citizens repatriating to their homelands, and truck drivers ensuring movement of food, medications etc.) to reduce migration and spread of the virus.

Likewise, with planes generally down (maybe expect repatriation/evacuation charters to go rarely) and cars forbidden to cross borders, your ability to achieve your constitutional right to get to the homeland can be compromised/delayed by technical constraints. You are allowed to leave, but have to walk across the ocean, that kind of thing.

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  • Nice answer, and welcome. I would point out that in cases where quarantine facilities are overwhelmed, or in other extreme circumstances, temporary refusal of entry to a country's own citizens would be acceptable in most legal systems, since most legal systems recognize that rights are not absolute. I would also note that even though the right of entry is far weaker for people with residence permits, in this case allowing those who have already established their residence to return home probably serves public health better than keeping them out. – phoog Mar 23 at 13:43
  • There may be other downsides for holders of residence permit vs citizens - such as, allegedly, lower or absent priority of foreigners to get the treatment when hospitals are overwhelmed with legal citizens of the country already. Truth or not - I don't know, but this was said to have happened in Italy weeks ago already. So it may be a factor in choosing which home to return to, too. – Jim Klimov Mar 23 at 13:49
  • Absolutely. In saying "return home" for people with residence permits I'm thinking mostly of people who have nowhere to go in their country of citizenship. Keeping them away from their place of residence doesn't make sense. People who can choose will have different bases for that choice (the location of relatives who might need help, for example, the prevalence of the virus, the quality of the health care system, the terms of their health insurance, etc.). – phoog Mar 23 at 14:07

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