If you spot an American tourist in Canada, what should you do?
Since border restrictions between us and our southern neighbours were implemented at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Canadians have been cagey about the prospect of people bringing COVID-19 from the U.S. into Canada.
While COVID-19 case rates have decreased dramatically north of the border, cases continue to skyrocket in the U.S., with over 62,000 new cases confirmed there on July 8 alone, for a total of over 3.1 million infections and 134,000 deaths. (Editor’s note: As of Aug. 10, the numbers are now 5.02 million infections and more than 161,000 deaths.)
Canadian border agents turned away 7,639 tourists from the U.S. between March 22 and June 16. But some people are still getting through who shouldn’t be.
WATCH: Canada flattens the curve amid U.S. spike. Story continues below.
The RCMP have issued $1,200 tickets to Americans caught using the “Alaska loophole,” where the visitors declare they’re going to Alaska but stop for an extended period of time in Alberta or B.C. along the way, something not permitted under the current border restrictions.
“Do not pass go. Go directly to Alaska,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said last week during a news conference.
But it extends beyond the “Alaska loophole,” too. Last week, two Americans in Ontario were fined $1,000 each for not observing the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon entering Canada.
The prospect of Americans coming across the border and not quarantining is concerning for many Canadians. But does that mean you should report everyone you suspect to be a rogue U.S. tourist in your neighbourhood?
Not necessarily. According to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), there are many factors you should take into consideration before rushing to report someone.
First and foremost, the border isn’t technically “closed.”
“To be clear, Canada has not closed its border with the U.S.; Canada has introduced border restrictions on foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, for all discretionary travel to Canada,” CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said in an emailed statement. “The border remains open to all non-discretionary travel.”
That means there are restrictions on who can enter and why. The U.S.-Canada border has been restricted since mid-March. The two governments have extended the order three times since then, and while it is set to expire on July 21, but could be renewed.
Purdy said it’s important not to rush and judge every American licence plate you see.
“Members of the public should also note that there may be a legitimate reason for the presence of a U.S. resident or U.S.-plated vehicle or boat in Canada,” Purdy said.
Purdy noted that people permitted to cross the border from the U.S. include dual citizens, essential workers and immediate family members. And travel across the border is still permitted for healthy, non-symptomatic people who cross on a day-to-day basis for work or daily life.
Non-discretionary travel can include crossing the border for work or school, maintaining supply chains, shopping for essential goods such as medication, or critical infrastructure support.
“Members of the public should also note that there may be a legitimate reason for the presence of a U.S. resident or U.S.-plated vehicle or boat in Canada.”
So don’t assume that the Washington licence plate in Vancouver is there for the wrong reasons. It could be someone here picking up essential supplies, or someone who lives here.
The CBSA and B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Henry have repeatedly cautioned Canadians not to jump to conclusions. According to the CBSA, the majority of American licence plates in B.C. belong to Canadians living in the U.S. who have returned home in recent months.
However, if you do suspect someone is in Canada who shouldn’t be, you can report them to the CBSA Border Watch Line at 1-888-502-9060.
Strict penalties are in place for any traveller who fails to comply with border restrictions under the Quarantine Act, including a fine of up to $750,000 fines or six months in prison.