A cautionary tale for travellers

Dear editor,

At the urgings of those who have heard my story, and in light of the USA Border now being re-opened, I submit this letter that I sent to both Border Patrol and Public Health. May it better prepare readers for any cross-border travel.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

On October 19, 2021, at approximately 7:00 p.m., my husband, Gerard Guimond, and I arrived at Canada Customs in Fort Frances, ON. We had spent three days camping in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and decided to return home via USA to save travel time to keep a medical appointment in Winnipeg.

We knew the drill…complete the Arrive-Can documents, and have a recent negative Covid test.

I phoned Shoppers Drugs in Sault Ste Marie, to inquire about the test for travellers. (I failed to mention the word ‘molecular’ …big mistake). I was told that ‘Yes, they do them and one can have results in 15 minutes…fee is $40.00 each.’ When we arrived at the drugstore I once again asked if it was the test for travel and was again assured that it was.

Armed with negative results we crossed into Michigan and headed home.

In Fort Frances, an officer welcomed us and received our documents, Arrive-Can receipt and Covid test results with receipt. Also our declaration of $56.13 for acquired goods. All good until he informed us that we did not have the correct Covid test. Totally shocked, I explained to him that we were assured it was the test for travel. He explained that the ‘antigen’ test that we had was for air travel into Canada; for land a ‘molecular’ test is required. Who knew? Not us.

He retained our documents and directed us to park the van and come inside.

We were informed that they had to report us to the Public Health Agency, and that we would have to wait for a phone call from them to direct us.

At 75 years of age, this whole thing was causing great internal strife as I fought back tears. We waited for about 20 minutes until a woman from Public Health called us on our cell.

She began by confirming that without the required Covid test we would be entering Canada illegally and possibly putting others at risk. She was quick to inform us that a fine of $6000.00 is attached to this violation, but because it was our first such offence, she would ‘let us off’ with a warning, but it would be on our record. I tried to explain that this was an error, not an attempt to violate rules or put anyone’s health at risk; that seemed irrelevant to her.

She further explained what we would need to do – a home Covid test to be picked up by Purolator, isolation for 4 days or until negative test results return.

There are worse things in life than being isolated with one’s husband for 4 days.

But doing the ‘home test’ correctly, and the haunting words ‘be on your record,’ kept me awake most of the night.

At 7:00am I phoned Border Patrol to speak with the supervisor —“Is this mistaken Covid test creating a ‘criminal record’ for us?”

Thankfully she assured me that was not the case.

My other question was …why were we not offered the option of returning to Int’l Falls (prior to getting out of our van) to stay the night and get the molecular test there in the morning, and then come home. I ask myself why I didn’t think to ask the officer that same question.

Two days later, I am okay with isolation. We were able to re-schedule our Winnipeg appointment. We completed our tests yesterday and Purolator picked them up. We did save the cost of paying for the tests in Int’l Falls, but I still think it ought to have been an option offered by the attending officer.

The CBSA officer could not have been more respectful and kind throughout this encounter.

I cannot say the same for the woman from Public Health. Her condescending tone relayed more about power and penalty than care for us and the safety of all.

Jacklynne Faragher-Guimond

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