Unexpected ArriveCAN app woes lead to quarantine

A retired Lac du Bonnet couple thought they had everything they needed — including downloading the ArriveCAN app — to cross the U.S. border for a quick trip and return without having to quarantine.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/12/2021 (367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A retired Lac du Bonnet couple thought they had everything they needed — including downloading the ArriveCAN app — to cross the U.S. border for a quick trip and return without having to quarantine.

Everything, that is, except the knowledge the Canadian Border Services Agency would update the app the day they were returning.

Now, Al and Margaret Parris are confined to their property, having to take two COVID-19 tests eight days apart, and having to cancel and rebook travel plans to Cuba.

“It’s an insult for a government to do something like this when, as far as I’m concerned, we did nothing wrong,” 68-year-old Al said Monday.

“Yesterday, we got two calls, two hours apart, from people asking what day did we go and where do you go get your fresh air? I can understand if we were someone who went across (the U.S. border) and didn’t know the regulations, but we tried to comply — we downloaded it.

As of last week, Canadians could cross over and return to the U.S. for short trips as long as they were double vaccinated and had downloaded and filled in the ArriveCAN app. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We said at the border, yes, we have it but your system cut us off. But it didn’t matter to them.”

Last week marked the first day Canadians could cross the U.S. border and not have to pay for an expensive molecular test for COVID-19 (running up to $200) for a trip of less than 72 hours.

Instead, Canadians could cross over and return as long as they were double vaccinated and had downloaded the ArriveCAN app. Via the app they would upload information, including proof of vaccination, date of return, and which border crossing they would be using.

Last week, several Manitobans contacted the Free Press to say they were calling from quarantine because they didn’t know they were supposed to have the ArriveCAN app filled out before they got to the border.

One said a border official told him they were seeing hundreds of Canadians an hour returning to land border stations across the country without the ArriveCAN app.

Ottawa tweaks border rules

OTTAWA — Travellers who can’t access the government’s ArriveCan app, or simply forget to fill it out, may start to receive some clemency at the border after Canada’s public safety minister gave new instructions to border officials to allow people to provide their travel details in person.

Checking in on the app has become a mandatory part of crossing into Canada, regardless of how long the traveller has been out of the country.

It collects information about where the traveller has been, the purpose of their trip, their contact information, vaccination information, pre-travel COVID-19 test results, and their quarantine plan once they are in Canada.

Foreign nationals who fail to give their information have until now been barred from boarding planes into the country. Canadians, permanent residents and others with right of entry have so far been subject to two weeks of quarantine if they fail to offer their information to the app.

Members of Parliament have received hundreds of complaints about the policy, over inaccessibility and unreliability, Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said Monday during question period in the House of Commons.

OTTAWA — Travellers who can’t access the government’s ArriveCan app, or simply forget to fill it out, may start to receive some clemency at the border after Canada’s public safety minister gave new instructions to border officials to allow people to provide their travel details in person.

Checking in on the app has become a mandatory part of crossing into Canada, regardless of how long the traveller has been out of the country.

It collects information about where the traveller has been, the purpose of their trip, their contact information, vaccination information, pre-travel COVID-19 test results, and their quarantine plan once they are in Canada.

Foreign nationals who fail to give their information have until now been barred from boarding planes into the country. Canadians, permanent residents and others with right of entry have so far been subject to two weeks of quarantine if they fail to offer their information to the app.

Members of Parliament have received hundreds of complaints about the policy, over inaccessibility and unreliability, Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said Monday during question period in the House of Commons.

“The ArriveCan app has crashed for some users. Many can’t access it from poor cell service. Many seniors don’t have smartphones. For others costly data plans are out of reach for them,” she said.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told the House the government will never hesitate to put measures in place to protect Canadians at the border, particularly in light of the emergence of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“With regards to ArriveCan, I want to assure my colleagues that I’ve spoken with the (Canada Border Services Agency) so that there’s additional guidance to provide the opportunity for travellers to provide the information that is necessary on ArriveCan in person at the borders,” he said.

The government created several new border restrictions in response to the spread of the Omicron variant, including closing borders to foreign nationals who spent time in 10 African countries, and instituted new testing and quarantine requirements for all incoming travellers.

— The Canadian Press

Late Monday, Ottawa announced changes to the rule, saying travellers who can’t access the ArriveCan app, or simply forget to fill it out, may start to receive some clemency at the border. Canada’s public safety minister has instructed border officials to allow people to provide their travel details in person.

But the Parrises say their story is different: they knew about the app and had it with them on their smartphone — it just didn’t work for them.

Margaret, 73, said because the couple is not computer savvy they received help from a friend to download the app before they went to the United States.

“We didn’t fill it all in because we didn’t know whether we would come back in 48 hours or 72 hours,” she said.

“I looked at it (on Nov. 29) and I realized I had messed up my passport number. So I emailed them and they sent me a six-digit code so I could fix it up. I thought everything was good to go.”

But, Margaret said, when she opened the app Nov. 30 — the day before they decided to come back to Canada — all she got was a blank blue screen on her phone.

“We went all over Grand Forks (N.D.) to restaurants and stores, trying to get better wi-fi and nothing changed,” she said. “I even got up at 3 a.m. to see if I could get in, and it was the same screen.”

The couple arrived at the border and were told by an official, without the app filled in, they had no other choice than to order the pair to quarantine for two weeks. As well, the Parrises were given two sets of COVID-19 tests, one to be done the next day and the second to be completed on Day 8 of their quarantine.

Ottawa announced changes to the rule on Monday, saying travellers who can’t access the ArriveCan app, or simply forget to fill it out, may start to receive some clemency at the border. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We phoned around and finally we got a woman who told us they had updated their system on Nov. 30. You should have deleted the app and downloaded it again,” said Margaret.

“How would I have known to do that? This is just ridiculous.”

The office of federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino refused a Monday interview request, referring questions to the CBSA.

Allan Donovan, a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency, said its policy is not “to process tailored stats requests.”

But Donovan said: “I can confirm that the CBSA has seen instances of people crossing the border without the ArriveCAN App.”

The Manitoba couple are retired, so they are not missing work during their quarantine, but it is costing them $400.

“We were booked to go on a one-week trip to Cuba on the 14th, but that is 13 days into our quarantine — so we’ve had to rebook it and it cost us $400 more.”

— with file from The Canadian Press

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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