Ted Brindell is a senior who recently crossed the border into the U.S. with a passport and his proof of vaccination. That part of his trip was easy. His problems began when he arrived at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on his way home to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The 78-year-old, who enjoyed the trip in his 1975 Pontiac Ventura, expected the same problem-free crossing on his return, but was singled out for one of the random COVID tests the federal government has warned about.
He had heard through the media that borders are open, and he would just need proof of vaccination. He had no idea the regulations were different to come home. A traveller checking out the government site for land or air crossings will learn that as of April 1, pre-entry tests were no longer required, but a border services officer may notify you that you’ve been randomly selected for a mandatory arrival test.
It also tells you that you must use an ArriveCAN app to provide mandatory travel information before and after your entry to Canada. “It only takes minutes to help keep each other safe. Available from Google Play Store and the App Store for iPhone,” the government website says. Brindell, a retired journalist and photographer best-known for coverage of vintage cars, and a radio blog on the same subject, says he gave up using a cell phone and computer years ago. He reached out to The Local to warn travellers of what to expect if they are fully vaccinated, but chosen for random testing.
His first problem, he said, was he was unable to understand the border official who was talking to him through his car window, and he wan’t at all sure of what he was being asked to do. He suggests instead of saying ‘pardon,’ which wasn’t helping him, “we should say something along the lines of ‘let me get this straight. This is what you are asking me to do.’”
He drove away with a test kit in his car, after being told, he thought, to take the test at home and mail it for processing. He was also told he would not be able to leave Canada and return again during that period without quarantining for 14 days, making him, he said, “a pensioner who’s a prisoner in my own country.”
He discovered he actually had to send the test by Purolator, and wait up to 14 days for the results, but with no need to quarantine while he waits — that only happens if the test results are positive.
However, a look at the government website indicates he could have been made to quarantine at home for 14 days, could have been fined, and would not be able to leave the country if he doesn’t fill out the information requested on the ArriveCAN app. He has no phone, and no app, he said, although he may ask a friend to assist him out with that.
A very helpful travel agent, who didn’t want to be named, explained the random testing procedure to The Local. The agency has a policy against talking to the press on COVID issues, because policies change rapidly, and they could be blamed for giving out information that is wrong by the next day — hence not giving out her name or that of the agency. They advise their own clients throughout their trip of any changes, she said.
She agreed the government website is very difficult to navigate, with little information about random testing, which occurs at airports and land crossings.
Also, regulations for entry into other countries can vary widely — her advice is to ensure you understand all the protocols for travelling to your destination and for returning home to Canada before you leave, and check regularly for changes. As of Monday, the random testing Brindell experienced was still occurring, although the federal government is being lobbied to drop it.
Government regulations require all travellers entering Canada to have the ArriveCAN app, so access to a computer, or a friend or relative to help out, is necessary at some point, she said, adding it would be a challenge for those who are not “tech-savvy.”
If you are chosen for a random test at a land crossing, it has to be carried out online with an official watching, and then, although the instructions use the term ‘mailing,’ it is to be sent by Purolator for testing.
She said she believes Purolator will come to pick it up, and she has heard of a testing response received the same day.
Brindell knew nothing about taking the test in front of someone online, and just did it himself and sent it off.
The travel agent also said travellers are expected to wear a mask and keep track of contacts for 14 days after they get home, in case they test positive.
Minerva Ward, president of the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, says chambers in Ontario remain concerned about the confusion around border restrictions, the requirements, and the process. “While we are thankful that the government of Canada heard the pleas of tourism and tourism-related business, and made changes to Canada’s border restrictions, we are concerned about what this lack of clarity and confusion will mean for our tourism industry for the upcoming tourist season, and Niagara-on-the-Lake businesses that depend on visitors from the U.S.”
She said she has heard anecdotally that U.S. visitors are unaware or confused about the ArriveCAN app, especially for travellers who may not have smartphones or are not as technologically savvy.
“We have also heard from unvaccinated travellers who have opted to wait it out to visit Canada until border restrictions are fully lifted. We have heard from fully vaccinated travellers about the hesitation around still being subject to random PCR testing. Overall, the information and process around border crossing are confusing and still cumbersome.”
Just ask Ted Brindell. He will agree policies are confusing, and not just for American visitors to Canada. He never dreamed as a Canadian he would have such difficulty trying to get home, he said.