September 27, 2022

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The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says only 190 fines have been issued to travellers for refusing to provide their COVID-19 vaccination information when crossing the border into Canada in the time since the ArriveCAN app became mandatory for air travellers and motorists.

“They’re very limited cases when you consider the overall number of travellers coming into our country,” Jennifer Lutfallah, a vice president with PHAC, told the House of Commons transport committee on Friday.

The committee met to question Transport Minister Omar Alghabra about delays at airports and land border crossings this summer.

Conservative MPs have pointed to ArriveCAN as a source of congestion at customs lines.

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But the committee heard that flat refusals to use the app are relatively rare.

Lutfallah, who was also on hand as a witness at the committee hearing, said the people fined for “ArriveCAN non-compliance” have been “repeat offenders,” individuals who refused to provide paper submissions — even though that’s an option — or people who “just don’t want to comply with the public health measures.”

Failing to use ArriveCAN can lead to fines of up to $5,000, the federal government warns. That’s been the case for air travellers since November 2020 and for drivers since February 2021. 

But Lutfallah said border officers are generally “very successful” in convincing people to follow the rules.

“A ticket is not the first option,” she said.

Checking in on quarantine

International travellers who don’t submit their information through ArriveCAN, or who are unvaccinated, are allowed back into the country but may be required to quarantine and undergo two COVID-19 tests a week apart. 

People are sent reminders, via the app, to quarantine or undergo testing. They may also be phoned, Lutfallah said. 

The public health agency also does in-person checks “based on the risk that the individual may pose with respect to non-compliance,” she said.

“In very, very limited circumstances, after we have an on-site verification — and that’s usually done by a security company — we will refer some of those more egregious cases to police of jurisdiction.”

Lutfallah said she did not have statistics on hand to show how many in-person checks have been conducted. 

Minister defends app

Friday’s meeting also saw Conservative and Liberal MPs make competing cases for turfing, or maintaining, the controversial ArriveCAN app.

“It would be easier just to list those who support it, and that’s only the government. It is adding delays,” said Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, the party’s critic for transportation.

WATCH / Transport Minister defends ArrriveCAN app

Transport minister answers questions during committee hearing on airport delays

During a committee hearing on long delays facing air travellers, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra supported the government’s decision to keep using the ArriveCan app at border crossings.

Lantsman said front-line border agents have blamed the app for long lineups. 

In July, the union representing Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers said the app was leading to congestion because officers had to spend time helping challenged travellers fill it out.

At Friday’s committee meeting, however, the vice president of the CBSA’s travellers’ branch said 99.5 per cent of air travellers, and just over 90 per cent of drivers, come to the border with the ArriveCAN app already filled out. 

“Without ArriveCAN, [it] would take far greater time to process individuals than it currently takes,” Denis Vinette said. “It’s been a very efficient tool.”

Alghabra said continued labour shortages at airports are the “root cause” of congestion — not the app.

“We’re seeing significant improvements over the last two months,” he said of airport issues, citing recent statistics on cancelled and delayed flights in the first week of August compared to a month before.

Alghabra said he was aware of border communities that have been flagging the app as an issue. 

But at airports, he said, “there is no evidence whatsoever that ArriveCAN is causing any problems.”

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