A Grand Forks man is hoping cross-border travellers can avoid the “endless hours of trouble” he wasted after a recent trip to the Danville Post Office.
Dalton Gagne, 74, told The Gazette Wednesday, Dec. 8, he’d been randomly selected for a COVID-19 test when he and his wife re-entered Canada through the Danville/Carson crossing the week before. Handed a test kit by Canadian border guards Friday, Dec. 3, Gagne said he ran into problems when it came time for him to send his completed test to a diagnostic lab in Surrey, B.C.
He’d self-administered his test with online support from LifeLabs. However, LifeLabs’ shipping instructions didn’t line up with available courier options in the Kootenay Boundary.
“After the test was all sealed, I was asked to call FedEx at a number provided on their test info sheet, but FedEx does not pick up in Grand Forks,” he said. The nearest FedEx offices are in Castlegar and Trail, according to the company’s website.
The Government of Canada emailed Gagne Monday, Dec. 6, telling him the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) “may follow up with you in the next few days to confirm your compliance with this requirement.”
Gagne tried to ship his test for nearly three days, spending hours on fruitless searches for local couriers. He didn’t want to drive to Castlegar or Trail over the Dec. 4-5 weekend because he was worried road conditions would be treacherous on Highway 3’s Paulson Summit.
“On Monday, we went through the whole process again,” he said. “We phoned this number and that number. Finally, we phoned LifeLabs and they put us in touch with their courier service.”
LifeLabs’ listed a customer service line on the shipping instructions for Gagne’s test. But the automated voice on LifeLabs’ end doesn’t explain that completed tests can be shipped by its courier service, FlyClear. “For calls regarding FlyClear or LandBorder by LifeLabs, please press one. For the Ontario LifeLabs’ COVID-assessment centre appointment booking line, please press two,” it says, repeating the options on a continuous loop.
Gagne said he didn’t mind having to go through with the COVID-test, just as he didn’t mind rolling up his sleeve for his three COVID-19 vaccinations. And, he and his wife had followed the Canadian Border Service Agency’s (CBSA’s) instructions to the letter before leaving for the American border, having uploaded their federal vaccine passports to the federal government’s online platform, ArriveCan.
All he wanted were clear instructions about how to get his completed test to the lab in Surrey before the federal government followed up with him.
His test came back negative shortly after it went out via FlyClear, but Gagne said the whole experience left him feeling rattled.
“It was intimidating,” he told The Gazette. “I’m a senior and I feel like I’ve been intimidated by our government.”
It would’ve been easier to swallow had the couple been out of the country for a long time. But Gagne said they’d crossed the border to pick up a cheque at the Danville Post Office, a 10-minute drive from downtown Grand Forks.
“We weren’t able to do that for the past 18 months,” he said, explaining that it was much faster to drive to the American post office than to forward the cheque to their city address, a process Gagnon said would have added around three weeks’ delivery time.
Frustrated and annoyed, Gagne went to Grand Forks’ MP, Richard Cannings.
Cannings said Friday, Dec. 10, he’d been advised that PHAC is randomly testing 20 per cent of people who arrive at entry ports across Canada.
Gagne and his wife, who wasn’t ordered to submit a COVID-test, “were really just trying to do the right thing,” Cannings said.
Cannings added that he’d written health minister Jean-Yves Duclos, whose portfolio covers the PHAC, about clarifying the test-shipping process.
The MP for South Okanagan—West Kootenay then said he’d personally dealt with at least five constituents who’d had similar cross-border hassles. Of greater concern, Cannings pointed out that many seniors in his riding can’t readily access ArriveCan, either because they don’t have cell phones or they don’t have internet access at home, or both.
A CBSA spokesperson told The Gazette Thursday, Dec. 9, that, “Fully-vaccinated travellers are subject to random, mandatory on-arrival testing at select airports and land border crossings.”
Fully-vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents who spend less than 72 hours outside the country aren’t required to submit a COVID test before re-entering Canada, according to the Government of Canada’s website, travel.gc.ca. But the website says “100 per cent of vaccinated travellers” will be tested for COVID-19 upon entering the country starting “in the coming weeks.”
Fully-vaccinated travellers who’ve been outside Canada or the US within 14 days of re-entering Canada may be asked to complete a COVID test on arrival, according to the website.