6 Americans fined in B.C. as federal government closes 'Alaska loophole' at borders
VANCOUVER -- Six Americans have been fined for violating the Quarantine Act in British Columbia, CTV News has learned, as the federal government cracks down on travellers trying to skirt the closure of the border to non-essential travel.
The BC RCMP would not specify when or where the Americans had been stopped or under what circumstances in recent weeks.
"There have been six violation tickets issued under Section 58 of the Quarantine Act for failure to comply with an order prohibiting or subjecting to any condition the entry into Canada," said spokesperson Sgt. Janelle Shoihet. "The fine is $1,000."
On Thursday, Canada Border Services Agency announced that as of midnight, it's closing the so-called "Alaska loophole" that had an unknown number of American travellers claiming to be going to the state via B.C., but staying to vacation in the province instead.
"Stricter rules and additional entry conditions will be imposed on travellers transiting through Canada to Alaska for a non-discretionary purpose," said the agency in a news release.
"These measures are put in place to further reduce the risk of introduction of COVID-19 cases and to minimize the amount of time that in-transit travellers are in Canada."
Those travellers who still plan to go to Alaska will have a fixed time to get there on the most direct route "while avoiding all national parks, leisure sites and tourism activities" and must confirm their exit from Canada with the CBSA.
They'll be assigned a "hang tag" to place on their rear-view mirror that identifies their destination and dates of departure on the front, with the Quarantine and Emergencies acts requirements on the back. They’re required to avoid contact with others, remain in their vehicles as much as possible, refrain from unnecessary stops, observe physical distancing at all times, use a drive-through for food when possible and ensure good hygiene.
American travellers will be refused entry if they're sick and can only transit to Alaska through five designated crossings: Abbotsford-Huntingdon, Kingsgate and Osoyoos in BC.., Coutts, Alta., and North Portal, Sask.
'Paper candy' and likely not good enough: expert
One of the most prominent immigration lawyers in the province is questioning how thorough the plan is and whether it’s more than a public relations tactic.
“This is PR paper candy — suspending a piece of paper from the rear-view mirror of a car? You’ve got to register the driver and the passengers in the immigration computer system. You should be using electronic monitoring to see where they’re going for three weeks,” said Richard Kurland. “Are they directly non-stop headed to Alaska? Or are they taking a tourist binge in densely populated areas of Canada that need COVID protection from foreign nationals?”
Kurland emphasized that each person in the car would need to have their file flagged at the border so that every interaction with either U.S. or Canadian officials could track their movements.
“You need monitoring, oversight, reporting of how many tags were issued, the compliance rates — and that has to be done quickly because of the COVID pressure,” he said.
Kurland added violations of CBSA orders can result in a five-year ban from travel to Canada, while the agency invoked even stricter penalties for rule breakers, though it didn’t explain how it would find them.
“Failure to comply with the current border restrictions is an offence under the Quarantine Act and could lead to up to $750,000 in fines, and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months,” reads the CBSA's news release. “If a traveller causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly contravening this act or the regulations, they could be liable for up to $1 million in fines, and/or imprisonment of up to three years.”
Other Americans fined as premier called for help
While the six Americans fined in B.C. recently are new, two Americans were fined in Ontario under the Quarantine Act after entering June 24, while seven were fined by Alberta RCMP for sight-seeing in Banff after entering the country claiming they were headed to Alaska in mid-June.
Premier John Horgan had voiced considerable frustration on the Alaska loophole, a well as other travellers arriving by land and air, so much so that he’d been working on the issues for months with the federal government.
On Thursday morning, Horgan praised senior government, which is responsible for border crossings, for taking action.
“First and foremost, we must all be respectful of each other. We look forward to the day when our borders are open and we can welcome travellers from all over but we aren’t there yet,” he said in a written statement.
“These enhanced measures will ensure those travelling to Alaska take the fastest route possible, with minimal contact in communities that are working hard to contain COVID-19. If we remember to be calm and be kind, we will all be safe.”