A South Surrey woman says she had to spend 14 days in quarantine after being in Peace Arch State Park for two minutes.
The Canada Border Services Agency says all travellers seeking entry into Canada, “no matter where or what mode of entry,” must report to CBSA and may be subject to quarantine measures.
Birgit Heinbach, who has a husband that lives in the U.S. within walking distance of her South Surrey home, visited the park on her birthday Sept. 15 to collect a newly purchased dog from her husband Ian. While the evening visit only lasted a couple of minutes, Heinbach said she had been in the park earlier that afternoon for coffee and cake.
A nearby RCMP officer informed Heinbach that she had to bring the dog to the nearby CBSA office, as all pets imported into the country must meet requirements set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Once inside the office, Heinbach said, CBSA officers told her she had to undertake a 14-day quarantine.
“There’s no reasonable reason for quarantining me,” Heinbach said, adding that officers didn’t say why she had to quarantine for a two-minute visit in the park.
“None, it’s basically because I’m going into that border booth – I’m coming by there. That’s the reason, even though I never left the country.”
Peace Arch Park is owned by both Canada and the U.S. governments. The provincial government closed the Canadian side of the park earlier this year. However, the U.S. has left the American side open. Canadians can enter the U.S. State Park by crossing a ditch on 0 Avenue.
Still, Heinbach says the, CBSA officers working the port have too much power.
“There has to be a rule for that. Otherwise the guy can do whatever because other guys before that did not quarantine me. Now this guy, for some reason he didn’t like me or whatever, he quarantined me,” Heinbach said.
Heinbach said she lost about $4,000 due to loss of work from the quarantine requirement.
In a lengthy statement to Peace Arch News, CBSA defended the move, adding that it’s their job to “protect residents of Canada and to ease the potential burden that ill travellers could place on our health care system and front line workers.”
In an email, CBSA senior spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said the RCMP, not CBSA, is responsible for monitoring areas along the international border that are not designated ports of entry.
She said that when assessing admissibility, CBSA makes the decision on a case-by-case basis and consider the individual circumstances of each traveller.
“The rules are clear. All travellers seeking entry to Canada must report to the CBSA at a designated port of entry. If someone enters the U.S., no matter where or what mode of entry, they must report to the CBSA and may be subject to quarantine measures. Additionally, any traveller who accepts or retrieves goods, including personal mail, from the U.S. must report to the CBSA. This also includes all animals,” Purdy said.
Failure to report to the CBSA, Purdy added, is a serious offence that may result in penalties or charges.
Upon arrival at a port of entry, Purdy said, travellers must demonstrate to CBSA that they meet the requirements for entry into Canada and provide documentation that details their reason for travel, length of stay, as well as any information that may be relevant to substantiate how they meet exemption.
There are a number of exemptions to the quarantine rules, including for travellers who enter the country for work, a person who was invited by the Minister of Health to assist in the COVID-19 response, a member of Canadian Forces or a visiting force, and a person whom the public health officer determines will provide an essential service.
Heinbach, however, says she should have been exempt.
“I had never even left the country and they quarantined me. I’m a frontline, essential worker. For two weeks, I had nobody – for like 200 people – looking after them for rehab purposes,” Heinbach said.
Heinbach says she has no hesitation about returning to the park to visit her loved one.
Last Month, PAN reported an increased RCMP presence along 0 Avenue near Peace Arch Park. Sgt. Kris Clark of the Surrey-based federal RCMP unit tasked with border security, confirmed that patrols have increased, although he said response does not constitute a new policy or specific campaign.
“We’re responding to observation and concerns we are hearing about people congregating,” Clark said. “We’re ensuring that people are following the rules.”
The park has been a point of frustration for many residents who live on or near 0 Avenue. Concerns with parking have been raised by a number of residents to PAN, as has the number of people meeting in the park.
John Kageorge, a Canadian resident who lives near the park, described park activity as a “daily carnival scene” and “full of lawn chairs, picnics and conjugal tents.”
– With files from Alex Browne