By Gretchen Wehmhoff

Canada announced stricter rules and additional entry conditions along their southern border for non-Canadian travelers headed through Canada to Alaska for non-discretionary purposes.  

Part of the new rules involve limiting entry from the Lower 48 to five specific Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) ports of entry (POE). People headed to Alaska may only enter Canada from Coutts in Alberta; North Portal in Saskatchewan; and Abbotsford-Huntington, Kingsgate and Osoyoos – all in British Columbia.  Those who try a different POE will be denied entry and directed to a listed border station.

The rules also apply to non-Canadians traveling south from Alaska, however, travelers are not limited to specific POEs.  This means Alaskans traveling through Canada to the Lower 48 or between Interior Alaska and Southeast may utilize their normal border crossings, if open, such as Beaver Creek, Fraser and Haines.

Each vehicle accepted through the POE will be issued a “hang tag” to attach to the rearview mirror for the entire trip. It will note when the vehicle entered and include rules to follow while transiting.

Canada will require documentation beyond a passport to justify or prove the need to transit Canada.  This may mean paperwork Alaskans may not have considered when traveling across the border in the past. In all cases, the final decision is at the discretion of the Border Station Officer (BSO).  

On July 22, this reporter was denied access to travel from northern Alaska to Skagway. I had the correct business documents to prove I was a business owner, but did not have medical documentation or papers to show that driving was my only option. I was turned around to drive home the 420 miles I traveled the day before because the BSO was not convinced it was necessary for me to drive through Canada to get to Skagway.

While calling ahead could help, not all CBSA POES are available by phone – particularly the Beaver Creek POE.  Both the U.S Alcan Customs and the CBSA Fraser POE offered a phone number given by Beaver Creek that travelers can call. One Canadian BSO thought the people at the other end of the number could forward a call to Beaver Creek. The number had a Manitoba area code.

“I will not be giving you a number for Beaver Creek, nor will I be forwarding your call,” said the employee who answered the phone in Manitoba. 

She did, however, work to explain that a significant change in circumstances, such as medical necessity or specific emergencies could be supported with documentation, allowing a previously refused traveler (who had not been permanently denied), passage through the POE.  She also added that it was ultimately up to the BSO.

The CBSA agent was not able to answer how Alaskans, who have to drive 600 km to Beaver Creek, can contact the station prior to arrival. 

Emails to CBSA asking for statistics on entry and denied entry status were not returned as of deadline.

Canada’s policies expect travelers to:

• avoid contact with others while in transit

• remain in the vehicle as much as possible

• not make any unnecessary stops

  practice physical distancing at all times

• pay at the pump if they need gas

•  use a drive through if they need food

• wear a suitable mask or face covering while in transit

• ensure good hygiene practices if they need to use a rest area

In addition, travelers with any COVID-19 related symptoms will be denied entry.

Facts from the CBSA announcement:

• The Canada-U.S. temporary border restriction put in place on March 21 at 12:01 am EDT continues. All discretionary/optional travel remains prohibited.

• Foreign nationals are only admitted to Canada in circumstances where the traveller is considered to be transiting through to Alaska for a non-discretionary purpose such as work or going to primary residence.

• The CBSA consulted with implicated federal partners, provinces and territory in the development of the stricter rules and conditions being imposed on travellers transiting to Alaska.

•  As of March 31, travellers arriving in Canada must provide their contact information to a border services officer (either by paper, online, via the ArriveCAN App or verbally to the officer) when seeking entry. This information is collected on behalf of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to support their compliance and enforcement of the 14-day quarantine or isolation requirement outlined in Order in Council 2020-0524.

• The CBSA collects contact information on behalf of PHAC who, along with provincial/territorial health authorities, monitor and track individuals from a public health perspective.

• Failure to comply with the current border restrictions is an offence under the Quarantine Act and could lead to up to $750,000 in fines, and/or imprisonment of up to six months. If a traveller causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly contravening this act or the regulations, they could be liable for up to $1,000,000 in fines, and/or imprisonment of up to three years.

• For the latest on cross-border programs and services, travellers can call the CBSA’s Border Information Service at 1-800-461-9999.