B.C. business owner fined, ordered to quarantine after trip to U.S. despite having import licence
VANCOUVER -- Joanna Mileos regularly travels across the border to get goods that were shipped to her warehouse in Blaine, Wash.
She and her husband are co-owners of the Granville Island Toy Company and both have importers licences.
The pair most recently headed down on Monday.
“We cross the border, we go to our warehouse, we’re there maybe 20 minutes,” she told CTV News Vancouver.
When they returned to the Canadian crossing, however, they ran into trouble.
"The officer informed us that only one of us is exempt, even though we’re both business owners and both have our importing licenses," Mileos said.
Shocked, she explained to the officer they’d been down back in October for Christmas shipments and had no issue.
“The reason my husband and I go down together is because he’s not always as good at doing the processing forms at the border, and I have a little bit of a lower back issue so I can’t lift really heavy boxes,” she said.
On this trip, they had about three shipments' worth of goods, roughly 15 boxes to pick up. They also ended up with a $3,500 fine and a quarantine order for her husband.
“I asked (the officer) to show me where it says that only one of us can go down, that we both can’t go down as business owners,” she said. “He could not produce anything. He said, 'This is just the way it is and it’s at my discretion.'"
She looked all over the CBSA website to find the rule that specifies just one person can cross, but didn’t find anything that says that. She wonders whether they could have avoided the entire incident if they had travelled in separate vehicles.
“We’re both business owners," said Mileos. "We both have our importing licenses, so there’s no reason whatsoever that they should hand him a fine and quarantine him. Only one of us can be exempt? That makes no sense.”
CTV News reached out to the Canada Border Services Agency for clarification. The agency's website clearly outlines those exempt from quarantine rules, including “persons in the trade or transportation sector who are important for the movement of goods or people, including truck drivers and crew members on any aircraft, shipping vessel or train, and that cross the border while performing their duties or for the purpose of performing their duties.”
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson said that group “may be exempt from mandatory quarantine requirements as well as pre-and post-arrival testing.”
"Where questions arise with regards to a traveller’s public health obligations, CBSA border services officers refer the traveller to a Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Quarantine Officer who will make a determination on the next steps," the statement continues. "The CBSA does not issue fines in the enforcement of the Quarantine Act requirements; the decision on whether to pursue any enforcement action related to the public health orders rests with PHAC and/or the police of jurisdiction.”
“I’ve actually seen this quite a bit recently,” said U.S. immigration attorney Len Saunders. “What I saw happening over the last two or three months was a tightening of the interpretation of essential workers by CBSA of individuals, whether they’re Canadians or Americans entering Canada.”
He said what’s strange about this particular case is that the American side deemed the couple's reason for entering the U.S. essential.
“Here you have the American officers who have allowed this couple as Canadians to enter the U.S. under an exemption as essential workers, but their colleagues just north of the border have a totally different view,” said Saunders. "Both governments are kind of going it alone here. There seems to be very little cooperation with both governments.”
Ever since international travellers flying into Canada began having to quarantine in government-approved hotels, Saunders told CTV News he’s noticed a significant increase in people walking or driving across the border.
“The amount of people entering Canada on foot or by car has probably doubled or tripled in the last month or so," he said.
Mileos said she can’t understand why her husband was not exempt but she was and only he has to quarantine.
“Where in the public good is this? Where did this serve us as opposed to leaving us feeling like this is just a cash grab?" she asked.
She said she wanted to come forward with her story to make sure other small businesses were aware of the potentially confusing rules at the border.
“It’s very upsetting, especially when you’re trying to survive with a small business and keep your staff employed in these times,” said Mileos.
Saunders said he would recommend no one cross the border at this time.
“I don’t think the actual rules have changed, I just think that they’re interpreting it more closely,” he said. "It’s somewhat unfortunate that the Canadian government was so heavy handed. ... To fine him $3,500 for doing something he did mere months ago, I think it’s just, it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.”
Mileos said for the time being the couple won’t be shipping goods to their Blaine warehouse.
“(It's been) very frustrating, very upsetting," she said. "I’ve had to increase my business costs because now my husband’s stuck in quarantine at home for 14 days for absolutely no valid reason."