Canadian officials still don't know how many Americans are travelling to Alaska
VANCOUVER -- Six weeks to the day since the Canadian government announced a crackdown on Americans dodging the rules against non-essential travel, CTV News has learned that border officials don’t actually know how many people have come into the country under the “hang tag” system.
Despite requests over the past four weeks for the number of travellers and vehicles allowed in under the new system, Canada Border Services Agency staffers claim “this data is not readily available at this time.”
On July 31, Canada Border Services Agency announced they were taking actions against those using the so-called “Alaska loophole," claiming they were heading straight to Alaska but vacationing in B.C. and other provinces instead. Ever since, Americans were directed to handful of designated crossings away from big cities where they could request a placard to hang from their rear-view mirror explaining they were in transit to Alaska and had to be there by a certain day.
“We have checked with our Border Task Force,” wrote CBSA in response to a CTV News email on Aug. 12. “We are currently looking at different options to try to compile the data, but it is a bit more challenging than it seems. While we won’t have anything in the immediate future, we can advise if/when the becomes available.”
When CTV News suggested it was incomprehensible that no one at the agency knew how many of the tags had been issued in connection with however many travellers, another spokesperson responded on Aug. 13 that they were “working very hard to come up with a solution.”
A follow-up request on Sept. 9 prompted an email response from CBSA that there had been no change in the situation. When pressed on Friday, Sept. 11, the agency claimed “some stats around transiting to Alaska” will be available early next week but that “It might not fit the exact parameters that (CTV News is) looking for.”
One of B.C.’s most prominent immigration lawyers had harsh words for the agency’s handling of the issue.
“Willful blindness is when, during a COVID crisis, CBSA drops the ball and fails to collect data -- who has the tag?” said Richard Kurland. “This is not rocket science. A special code will identify people as having an Alaska tag and CBSA can generate reports daily, weekly, monthly on entries to Canada.”
He points out B.C. eateries are expected to keep track of diners, so it’s reasonable to expect that CBSA would have easily available information on who’s crossing the border at a time COVID-19 infections are raging in the United States.
“CBSA can also look at electronic monitoring. The same way we can attach to an ankle an electronic monitoring bracelet, we can do the same for the rear-view mirror and track the vehicle as it goes allegedly to Alaska and back to the United States,” Kurland pointed out. “Yes, it’s not ideal in the hinterland, the signal drops, but as soon as the vehicle approaches a populated area the grid takes control and will self-report who has this tag, where they’re headed.”
The Canada-U.S. border was closed to non-essential travel on March 21 and according to CBSA, “Foreign nationals are only admitted to Canada in circumstances where the traveller is considered to be transiting through to Alaska for a non-discretionary purpose such as work or going to primary residence.”
B.C.’s premier has repeatedly expressed frustration at the “Alaska loophole” and at the time of the crackdown praised federal officials, who have jurisdiction on international borders, for taking action.
“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,” said John Horgan in a statement on July 30.
Flaunting the border restrictions is considered a violation of the Quarantine Act and can lead to up to $750,000 in fines and up to six months in jail.