About 20 vehicles carrying U.S. citizens who say they are bound for Alaska are crossing the land border at Coutts, Alta., each day, according to an Alberta health official – even as Ottawa says it will be more vigilant to ensure U.S. citizens aren’t using an allowance to drive through Canada as a loophole to vacation in the Rockies.
COVID-19 cases are still climbing in some U.S. states, and the United States and Canada have agreed non-essential travel between the two countries will remain shut down until at least July 21.
However, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) allows healthy, non-symptomatic foreign nationals to travel through Canada to get to Alaska for non-discretionary purposes, such as returning home.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week federal officials are looking into reports from CTV that some Americans have used the policy to vacation in Banff or Golden, B.C.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Tuesday that Banff RCMP are following up on the report, and police are asking the public to let them know if they see more U.S. travellers who appear to be vacationing in Canada while the border is closed.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has instructed CBSA officials “to take further care to ensure that the people coming into Canada from the U.S. are truly coming for essential reasons,” Ms. Freeland added.
“I would say to our American friends and neighbours: I love the Rockies, too. I grew up in Alberta. Personally, I can think of no better place to spend time. But now is not the time to visit. Hopefully, we will be back to normal at some point soon," she said.
“These measures are in place for a reason. They are to protect us, and they are to protect our neighbours."
While CBSA said on Tuesday it can’t provide any statistics on the number of Americans travelling by land through Canada to Alaska, the experience of provincial health authorities shines some light on how many are making their way into Canada via Alberta’s main land crossing with the United States.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has set up its own health screening to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the Edmonton and Calgary airports, as well as the land-border crossing at Coutts, where travellers drive through to Alberta from Montana.
Cheri Nijssen-Jordan – a medical consultant for AHS who designed the province’s screening program – said of the 70 to 100 vehicles screened by provincial health authorities at Coutts each day at the beginning of June, “probably 20 of those vehicles going through” were Americans who said they were driving to Alaska.
According to the CBSA, any traveller going to Alaska will have been given a Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) handout that asks them to use drive-through windows for food, not to stay in hotels, and to avoid unnecessary stops and contact with others while in transit. If a CBSA officer has “doubts with regards to the traveller’s intended purpose, the traveller will be required to prove/substantiate their purpose of travel," the agency said.
While the border between the United States and Canada has been been closed for almost three months, trade by truck has continued, and workers deemed essential can cross. Citizens and permanent residents who were trapped or decided to shelter in place as pandemic lockdowns began around the globe can also return to their home countries.
And while Americans are barred from entering Canada for reasons deemed “non-essential," U.S. authorities are allowing Canadians into the country by air – with few restrictions.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said this week if people are misleading Canadian border officials, there likely will be consequences. “I would advise anyone even contemplating such a thing to give their head a shake and not do it.
"It doesn’t make sense, and they put at risk – in some respects – their ability to visit our country in the future.”
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