Confusion over strict border crossing rules leads to heavy fines

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From forced quarantines to massive fines, some Windsor residents are learning that even unintentional violations of Canada’s rigid border rules can prove costly and painful.

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On a return trip from Costa Rica, Gael Fisher and his companion were fined a combined $ 12,510. Their transgression: taking the right COVID-19 test in the wrong place.

They had PCR testing in Costa Rica, which was perfect for getting to the Detroit Metro Airport on December 4. But their problems started half an hour later when they tried to get to Windsor. The fines came with quarantine orders and take-out COVID-19 tests.

“We had a PCR test within 52 hours of arriving in Windsor,” Fisher said. “Basically they said it wasn’t valid because it was taken in Costa Rica.”

The system is absolutely absurd

“If we had taken off from Toronto it would have been nonstop in Costa Rica and it wouldn’t have been a problem at all. The Costa Rican test would have been good. But because we passed through Detroit, that was a problem. It is strictly the failure of the Canadian government to realize that some Ontarians have to use a Detroit airport.

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Stress and confusion have swirled at border crossings as Canadians attempt to grapple with conflicting messages and strict government demands on what is needed to return home.

The international border crossing between Canada and the United States at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor.
The international border crossing between Canada and the United States at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor. Photo by Nick Brancaccio /Windsor Star

As of December 2, 2021, the federal government had imposed 2,145 fines on people attempting to enter Canada without a valid entry test, including 944 in Ontario.

Fines range from $ 825 to $ 5,000, plus hefty surcharges of up to $ 1,255.

Even fully vaccinated Canadians who have been out of the country for more than 72 hours must undergo a molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before returning.

“Our priority is safety first and foremost,” said Irek Kusmierczyk, Liberal MP for Windsor-Tecumseh. “We are still in this pandemic. We see the numbers go up and we see the terrible situation in Michigan. So having these different layers, having ArriveCAN, the PCR test, all of that protects us and they are absolutely essential.

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Kusmierczyk was aware of Fisher’s situation but said he couldn’t comment on individual cases. He noted, however, that tickets and quarantines aren’t the only recourse if someone hasn’t passed the proper test.

“It is always at the discretion of the CBSA officer to decide whether a fine will be imposed, for example, or whether he can allow you to turn around and take a test in the United States,” did he declare.

But the Canada Border Services Agency said it was referring issues about a traveler’s quarantine plan, medical condition or test documents to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which has quarantine officers stationed at the border.

Motorists enter Windsor via the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel on Monday, July 19, 2021.
Motorists enter Windsor via the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel on Monday, July 19, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Spokesman Allan Donovan said in an email that the CBSA does not impose fines for the enforcement of the Quarantine Act. It depends on the public health agency or the local police, he said.

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The Public Health Agency of Canada has said it also cannot comment on specific cases. It also wouldn’t explain why someone might be given the highest fines first, instead of starting with less severe options.

But spokeswoman Anne Genier confirmed that Canadians traveling to the United States from a third country must undergo another test before returning home, regardless of the length of their stay in the United States.

“Travelers arriving by air in the United States and then crossing the land border are at increased risk of exposure during their journey,” she said in an email. “This is why a test performed before crossing the land border is an important step in reducing the risk to public health. “

Fisher said the “inadequate and inadequate” government website does not help clarify these issues.

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And regardless of who makes the decision, she said she was denied the opportunity to return to Detroit for another test.

“They said it was not an option.”

Windsor West MP Brian Masse said his office had received numerous calls about people facing heavy fines and other issues resulting mainly from confusion and misunderstanding.

“It’s really tough,” said Masse, the NDP border critic. “I don’t blame the officers because they have to deal with the process and procedures imposed on them. But it’s a really hard thing. If there is no real intention to bypass the system or harm public safety, and you have a good record of crossing the border, there must be some leeway here. “

He envisions the creation of a working group with representatives of the sectors concerned to help eliminate the confusion, ensuring that the rules and consequences are more “reasonable”, instead of the current “full punitive model”.

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“There has been a lot of chaos with the rollout of the changes,” he said.

“Everyone wants to provide security and process, but it has only been confusing. “

It’s a case of confusion that left Mounin Yacoub, a single dad on disability assistance, with a quarantine order and a ticket of $ 6,255 after being held for two hours.

In November, Yacoub visited his ailing father in Michigan.

Wanting to make sure there would be no problem with his seven-year-old son in the car, he took two tests. The first was in a Windsor pharmacy before heading to the United States. Three days later, he spent $ 150 on another test in Detroit before returning home for Thanksgiving in the United States.

Yacoub, who never went to school in his native Iraq and cannot read, said he depended on assurances from people who gave him the test that he was given the correct one.

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But on his return to the Canadian border, a public health official told him that neither test was acceptable.

“I have panic attacks,” said Yacoub, who can no longer work after a car accident several years ago. “I get $ 1,060 per month. I am a single dad and we barely survive because of it. It’s the worst thing. We barely do it, and then you get that on top of that. “

Yacoub and Fisher both plan to fight their fines, which means going to court.

“The other thing is that the criminal court records are currently on hold,” Fisher said. “And this stuff goes on the criminal court file. The system is absolutely absurd. You have murderers who are on trial. You have sex offenders. You have all these people in the role of the criminal court who are having their trials delayed because of all of this. “

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