Step one: you must use an app
We left Portland and drove north uneventfully. As we approached the border, I remembered that we were supposed to use the "ArriveCAN" app to facilitate our return. We considered pulling over to use it, but didn't. Then the fun began.
The border agent checked our passports, then asked to see the information on the app. We told her we didn't have the app but had our vaccination cards.
Border Guard said she couldn't accept our cards -- that she couldn't even look at them.
Border Guard escalated her questions. In my experience on both sides of the border, when anything is a little off, you get a lot more questions. She asked the alcohol, tobacco, firearms question three separate times. She asked if we were bringing vaccines into the country. She expressed skepticism that we hadn't gone shopping, or that we had only bought books. Many questions.
BG said she didn't have to let us use the app now, but that she would. This time. I find this is also fairly typical: "I don't have to do this, but I will grant you this privilege."
Something about this seems not quite right. BG says we can enter Canada "by right," but we can't enter without using the app and she doesn't have to let us in to use the app. And without the app we would be subject to quarantine.
I said I had read that fully vaccinated Canadians re-entering the company no longer had to be quarantined. This seemed to piss off BG and she scolded me: fourth wave of covid, surging numbers, delta variant, blah blah blah. She wrote some stuff on a card, and told us to see an agent inside.
Step two: use the app, but you must be tested
The CBSA agent inside was friendly and seemed to assume we didn't use the app because we had trouble with the technology. I found this amusing, but of course I didn't say anything. We sat down to use the magical app -- scanned our vaccine cards, our passports, relevant dates, and so on.
The agent said we did great (ha!) then noted we left blank the part about our recent covid test.
We tell her we have not been tested.
She repeated that we were allowed to enter Canada by right, but because we had not shown the result of a covid test, we would likely be quarantined. But, she said, that was not within her jurisdiction. We would have to speak with a public health officer. She made it very clear that there was the CBSA issue (app) and the PHO issue (covid test), and her role was finished.
Step three: you must be tested or you will be fined
The PHO took it from the top. She collected all our information from our vaccination cards, our reasons for being in the US, home addresses, etc., writing down everything longhand, in an notebook.
PHO also confirmed that we can enter Canada "by right," provided we have met certain requirements. And one of the requirements is proof of a negative covid test within 72 hours of crossing.
Believe me, had I known this, we would have gotten tested!
PHO said we had two options. We could go back to the US and get tested, then provide the PHO with the test results, or we "may be subject to a fine". The fine is a lot.
She gave us some information, printed from the government website, detailing what kind of covid tests are acceptable, and some places where we can get tested. Some test results may be available within 24 hours. Others take several days.
We sat down again, and began calling testing facilities. It wasn't easy.
Some places have only online registration, but the URL doesn't work, or you need a US address, or it says to call the number that just sent you online.
One place said there is a national shortage of test kits and they have stopped all testing.
Another place was open until 4:30, but here was a 2-3 hour wait. It was 3:45, and the place was at least 30 minutes away.
Another place said results take three or four days.
Two or three places were not accessible by either phone or internet.
At that point, I was prepared to choose what's behind door number two. If we're fined, I would try to get it waived or reduced.
We tell PHO we can't find a way to make this work -- the proper test, with results available within an acceptable time frame -- and we'll opt for the fine.
Step four: now get tested, but someone else might fine you
Now PHO says she has no power to fine us, that will be up to the RCMP.
And still we're not free to go. Despite being fully vaccinated, and despite the fact that fully vaccinated people can enter Canada without quarantine, we must be tested at the border, and we will have to self-isolate.
PHO went over the rules for self-isolating. I have already done this once -- although I didn't tell her that! -- so I know the drill.
Next we are sent to the testing tent. Some very kind health workers gave us two test kits each -- one for Day One and one for Day Eight. They helped us register the kits, linking the kit IDs with our passports. It's a multi-step process involving a lot of onscreen typing. We're doing this outside, standing up, outside the tent. I was tired and felt dehydrated. The whole process seemed ableist and ageist.
After that, another kind health worker walked us through a self-administered covid test. It was easy and didn't involve any pain or discomfort.
That was the Day One test. For the Day Eight test, we will give ourselves the test while while being observed via Microsoft Teams.
Step five is in the future: we may or may not be fined
Finally, we were allowed to leave. The dogs had been waiting in the car and were pretty happy to see us. We drove to the Coast Tsawwassen Inn, had a good dinner in our room, and took an early ferry in the morning. We had an easy, uneventful drive home, and are happy to be here.
We're self-isolating now, and I assume we will get a visit from the RCMP. But I have a hard time believing that we will be fined. We didn't travel before being fully vaccinated. We traveled for a family reunion. We didn't know we needed a covid test, or we would have had gotten one. I can't see our local RCMP fining us in these circumstances. But we shall see!