VANCOUVER -- Nanaimo resident David Franklin said he couldn’t believe his eyes.

During a recent voyage home, the BC Ferries passenger was handed a leaflet from Transport Canada, warning if he didn’t leave his truck and move up to the passenger deck, he might pay dearly for it.

“Transport Canada may issue fines of up to $12,000 to any passenger for the unauthorized and illegal access to the enclosed decks while a ferry is underway,” the leaflet read.

When passengers refuse to leave their vehicles on the lower car deck, ferry staff come around, knock on windows, and inform drivers of the rules. Their refusal to leave will be reported to Transport Canada, staff say.

So far, roughly 1,000 drivers have been reported, though fines have yet to be determined.

Franklin, who takes the ferry every two weeks, wants to stay in his truck to avoid getting COVID-19.

“I’m risking my family, I’m risking everything by going up to the top deck,” he told CTV News Vancouver. “Transport Canada needs to realize who’s going to pay for my family if I go up and get COVID.”

For decades, passengers were allowed to remain on the lower decks. Then, in 2017, Transport Canada laid down the law: everyone had to leave.

In March, when the pandemic first surfaced, passengers were allowed to return, but in September - as COVID-19 cases had already begun to spike again - Transport Canada reversed that decision.

For three days, CTV News requested an interview with the transportation authority, but was told senior staff were too busy.

In earlier statements, Transport Canada said the rules were needed to ensure the safety of passengers on lower enclosed decks.

“Well, I didn’t realize it was $12,000, so that’s new information for me,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan when asked about the issue at a news conference Wednesday. “By and large, I believe it’s the greater of two evils. I would prefer that people stay in isolation in their car rather than going into a communal area where they could transmit or collect COVID-19.”

Horgan said he raised his concern with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Other ferry systems around the world, including in nearby Washington State, encourage passengers to remain in their cars.

In fact, passengers who park on BC Ferries' upper decks are asked to remain there. They should only leave to get something to eat or use the washrooms.

Transport Canada, still refusing an interview, argued not all ferries are built the same way.