Some Americans continue to defy the rules by making side trips when driving through Canada to or from Alaska, despite tough measures introduced in July to put a stop to it.
In August, B.C. RCMP ticketed half-a-dozen Americans in two separate incidents for going off-route during their treks. The tickets totalled $4,500 in fines and, in one case, RCMP escorted a family of five out of Canada.
“There are individuals who are continuing not to follow the rules,” said B.C. RCMP spokesperson Janelle Shoihet. “Those rules are put in place in order to protect everybody.”
In spite of the tickets issued, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said that since it introduced its new measures, the vast majority of Americans driving to or from Alaska have complied with the regulations.
To help stop the spread of COVID-19, the Canada-U.S. land border closed to non-essential travel in late March. However, Americans can still drive through Canada to Alaska, or vice versa, for non-discretionary reasons, such as for work or school, or to return home.
As a precautionary measure, drivers must take the most direct route possible and not make unnecessary stops.
Once summer hit, it became clear that some Americans were ignoring those rules after several were caught taking long hikes in Banff National Park.
In an attempt to curb the problem, CBSA introduced strict new measures on July 31. Now, when Americans doing the Alaska-route enter Canada, they receive a written list of rules and the date on which they must check in with a CBSA officer and exit the country.
The list of rules — which drivers must hang from their rearview mirror — include instructions to wear a face mask, avoid contact with others and order meals via drive-thrus.
According to B.C. RCMP, each of those rules was broken on Aug. 31 when a group of three Americans stopped in Fort St. John, B.C. during their drive from Washington state to Alaska.
The trio allegedly entered a restaurant while not wearing masks, dined in, and closely interacted with two Canadian customers both inside and outside the restaurant, said Shoihet with B.C. RCMP.
“There were a number of violations.”
She said RCMP were tipped off by a restaurant employee “who was concerned about the well-being of the patrons and the employees.”
RCMP fined the three Americans $1,000 each under the federal Quarantine Act.
Defying a deadline
Although American drivers now get a deadline for when they must exit Canada, that didn’t stop one American family from overstaying their welcome.
According to Shoihet, CBSA contacted B.C. RCMP on Aug. 29 when a family of five driving from Alaska to Washington State failed to check in at the B.C. border by their exit date.
RCMP circulated the licence plate number of the family’s vehicle to law authorities.
“A keen eye of a police officer in Vancouver was able to spot that license plate and then alerted us,” said Shoihet.
The three adult family members were fined $500 each under the Quarantine Act, and RCMP escorted the family to the B.C.-Washington border, she said.
“They were given an appropriate time in order to get from border to border and they failed to comply.”
CBC News uncovered a third incident where an American woman driving from Alaska to Montana was fined $1,200 for stopping at Banff National Park on Aug. 6. According to Alberta RCMP, the woman entered Canada about two weeks prior — before CBSA introduced its new measures.
RCMP said the drive to Montana should have only taken a few days and not included a pit stop in the park.
Get rid of the Alaska-exemption?
The Alaska exemption has sparked concern from some Canadians who fear a number of Americans may be using it as a loophole to vacation here.
“You shouldn’t be stopping along the way to enjoy the sights and sounds of British Columbia,” B.C. Premier John Horgan warned Americans during a news conference in July.
Some Canadians even question why the exemption is allowed, considering the U.S. has the world’s highest cumulative number of COVID-19 cases.
Jim Abram, a municipal politician on Quadra Island, off the B.C. coast, was never a fan of the Alaska exemption. He said Americans continuing to break the rules — despite new CBSA measures — only strengthens his resolve that it should be axed.
“Just cancel it,” said Abram, who is the elected regional director for Discovery Islands-Mainland Inlets in B.C.
“The situation in the States is absolutely abominable, and we have worked so hard in B.C. to try and keep things manageable.”
Abram said Alaskan-bound Americans have other options, such as flying or taking the Alaska State Ferry, which sails from Bellingham, Wash., and carries vehicles.
Americans are allowed to drive through Canada to or from Alaska for non-discretionary purposes due to their “limited options” for travel, said CBSA spokesperson Ashely Lemire, in an email to CBC News.
Since the agency introduced tougher measures on July 31, more than 99 per cent of Americans making the trek have complied with the requirement to leave Canada on their mandated exit date, she said.
When asked if the CBSA is at all reconsidering the Alaska-exemption, Lemire replied that the agency regularly reviews its policies and makes necessary adjustments.
“The CBSA will always take the appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of those residing in Canada,” she said.