We have previously reviewed the new travel requirements for those looking to enter Canada at land borders and by air travel. As the new restrictions were announced, they ruffled a lot of feathers, especially among Canadians currently in the U.S. for the winter months. With air travellers required to quarantine at hotels for three days, at an estimated cost of approximately $2,000 per person, many were looking at how they could cross at the land borders instead.
Now that the protocols are in force, we are starting to see instances of both enforcement and of people ignoring the rules. Below, we’ll discuss what is happening at both Canadian airports and land borders when people are not in compliance with the regulations.
By now, it is well known that travel between Canada and the United States is discouraged, and really only available to those who are deemed “essential” by both governments. Now, a negative COVID-19 test is required to cross the land border, and even many essential workers are expected to adhere to the new rule. Failure to comply with the new rule could result in a fine, and we have our first example of someone being fined for the failure to comply, as a Windsor man who often crosses the border for work came back to Canada without a negative COVID-19 test result in hand. He was fined $3,755 for failure to comply with the required proof of a negative COVID test. Although the traveller has a valid E-2 visa, he was still fined and labelled as non-essential by CBSA because he does not cross the border every day. Let this serve as a cautionary tale if you are planning to travel, as the rules are being strictly applied.
March 21 will mark one year since the border between Canada and the United States was closed to non-essential travel. The United States Secretary of State has recently made comments refusing to put a time stamp on opening the border, indicating that the United States will be following the science in order to inform its decision as to when to open the border. So for the foreseeable future, the land border will remain closed to non-essential travel.
When the new rules were announced mandating a three-day hotel stay for international air travellers while people are tested and awaiting results, it caused quite a stir. As we wrote about previously, many of those who are currently in the U.S. for the winter began looking for ways to avoid the new requirements. Some considered the option of flying into a U.S. airport close to the border and crossing by foot since the same requirement is not being imposed at land borders.
Since the rule took effect, people have begun reporting that many travellers who landed at the four airports accepting international fliers are simply ignoring the requirement. Some travellers have pointed out that they see little point to the rule in some cases. Speaking with the National Post, one couple returning together from India said that they live together, with nobody else in their home. Under the rules, they have had to book three nights in an approved Toronto hotel, together, only to return to a house where there are no other people. For those who live alone, or only with the people accompanying them abroad, they see little point in the interim arrangements.
At Pearson International Airport in the GTA, police have indicated that they are empowered to charge individuals at the airport, they don’t have the manpower to stop every person trying to skirt the rules by walking out:
Unless there are some serious or aggravating circumstances where the public safety is at risk, we are not … detaining individuals who are not complying with the regulations under the Quarantine Act.
Overseeing enforcement of the rules overall is the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which is working to identify and fine those who skirt the rules. People who deliberately ignore rules under the Quarantine Act could face fines of $1,800 per day or a maximum penalty of $750,000 and/or six months in prison. PHAC says it is aware that some people have left airports without reporting quarantine plans and is looking into the incidents.
Make sure you stay updated on regional restrictions and regulations before you make travel arrangements. If you are looking to travel, make sure you qualify as essential or prepare an exemption request. Depending on where you are going, you may also need a 14-day quarantine plan. If you have questions about where you can travel, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The immigration lawyers at Garson Immigration Law are continuing to monitor the immigration fallout in relation to COVID-19 on both sides of the border and will provide updates as the situation develops. If you have any questions about your potential classification as essential or about how you should comply with the changing regulations, do not hesitate to reach out to us online or by calling us at 416-321-2860.