B.C. man fined $1,000 at border crossing, says he never left Canada
An officer from the Canada Border Services Agency begins a search of Thomas Winkler's car at the Fraser border crossing on Sept. 7. Winkler says one of the officers who searched his vehicle wore a mask while doing so, but the other did not. (Thomas Winkler)
VANCOUVER -- B.C. resident Thomas Winkler was fined $1,000 by Canadian border guards who say he failed to stop at the border when returning from the United States on Sept. 7.
But Winkler says he did stop at the border crossing, despite the fact that he never left Canada in the first place.
The Swiss-born Canadian citizen had been visiting gold rush-era historic sites on a road trip around a remote area near the Alaska border. His trip included a visit to White Pass, where the physical border is located.
On his way back from the pass, Winkler arrived at the Fraser border station, which is located several kilometres down Highway 2 into British Columbia, away from the border itself.
"There is construction happening right adjacent to this border station," Winkler told CTV News Vancouver. "It doesn't look like a border station at all. It doesn't look like what we're used to in the Lower Mainland."
He pulled up to the stop sign and waited for someone to come out of the "dilapidated" building nearby, but no one came. He even got his passport out, in case any guards came to ask whether he had just been in the United States.
"I unbuckled in order to get my passport out of the glove compartment," he said. "I waited for a while. I looked around. Nobody came."
So, he put his passport on the passenger seat and drove on. Then, he heard a noise, which he now realizes was the sound of an alarm. Winkler checked all of his mirrors and didn't see any indication of trouble coming from behind. He says that at the time he had assumed it was a construction-related noise that he had heard.
"There was not a customs officer rushing out of the building, waving me back," he said. "There was nobody inside."
Winkler says his next destination was about 200 metres down the road, where he stopped his car to get out and take photos of the historic Fraser railway station.
"If these people wanted me to come back, they could have still yelled at me or waved at me to come back," he said.
He only learned that something was amiss another 70 kilometres on.
Winkler was just outside Carcross, Yukon, when an RCMP officer pulled him over and asked for identification. His passport was still on the passenger's seat, but he offered the officer his driver's licence.
"He looked at it and said I had run the border," Winkler said. "I said, 'No, I did not.'"
Mounties escorted him back into B.C. and all the way back to the border station.
Yukon RCMP said in a statement that Winkler had "gone through the Fraser, B.C. point of entry without reporting."
"RCMP escorted the man back to Fraser where he was processed by CBSA,” the statement continued. “As the main access to the Fraser point of entry is via Yukon, Yukon RCMP will patrol this area and respond to calls from this section of highway."
Winkler was issued a fine of $1,000, and border officers searched his vehicle before letting him continue.
CTV News contacted the CBSA to ask whether people who arrive at a port of entry without having left Canada are required to stop and present themselves to border officials.
"All travellers seeking entry to Canada must report to the Canada Border Services Agency at a designated port of entry," the agency said in an emailed statement. "If someone enters the United States, no matter where or what mode of entry, upon return to Canada, they must report to the CBSA. Under the current border measures, they may also be subject to quarantine measures. Failure to report to the CBSA upon entry to Canada is a serious offence and may result in penalties and/or charges."
The words "no matter where or what mode of entry" were bolded in the statement, which may mean that the border agency considers Winkler to have left Canada, regardless of whether he actually crossed the physical border.
CTV News also asked whether travellers are expected to get out of their vehicles and seek out a border officer when arriving at the Fraser crossing.
"Upon arrival at the Fraser port of entry, travellers are expected to stop at the stop sign and remain in the vehicle until an officer instructs them on next steps," the agency said in its statement.
Winkler plans to appeal the fine. He also said he is concerned about the lack of a mask mandate for CBSA officers – one of whom, he said, searched his car without wearing a mask.
The agency says mask-wearing is not part of Health Canada's guidelines for its officers.
"The CBSA’s standard operating procedures are in line with the recommendations from the medical experts at Health Canada," reads the agency’s statement.
Winkler says he’s “perplexed” that the CBSA doesn’t require border officers to wear masks when searching vehicles.
“The protection is not for them, the protection is for me,” he said. “In a normal border crossing, they would have thousands of people coming through, and they all come from different places. That they don’t have a policy that they have to wear masks for that is unbelievable to me.”