The rules around crossing the U.S. border during the pandemic led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple earlier this month, leaving them angry and frustrated as they were forced to go into quarantine without having technically entered the U.S. — indeed, without having even left their vehicle.
Grant and Barbara Howse were on their way to Baja, Mexico, where they have residency and property. There are rules in place to allow for this; in fact, Barbara’s son and daughter-in-law crossed the border earlier — at the Roosville border crossing.
“Originally, we were planning on flying,” Grant Howse said. “But every flight that we booked with WestJet was cancelled, or pushed to a different date. Finally, we decided to drive.
“We got to the border, waited for the command to come in to the port of entry. We explained we were on our way to Mexico, and we were residents of the country. We’re Canadian citizens, but we also have resident status in the Baja.
“But then we were told that we couldn’t go to Mexico unless we were Mexican citizens.
“We were pulling our trailer, and we loaded up to cross the States, because [Barbara’s son and daughter-in-law, who also have Mexican residency] had gone through.”
The son and daughter-in-law had been advised that they couldn’t stop except for essentials — gasoline, food — until they were over the southern border into Mexico, but otherwise they had been waved through.
The Howses explained that they had all their provisions, sanitary gear and masks, and were aware and prepared to follow all safety protocols while crossing the U.S. But even after the U.S. border checked with his supervisor, the Howes’ were still denied entry, offered no further reasons, and told to turn around. But that’s when their troubles really started.
“We were a little stunned,” Howse said.
The couple were told to drive ahead a few metres to a turn-around spot and go back to Canada, and that the U.S. border guards would call their Canadian counterparts and tell them the Howses were coming, having been refused entry.
“We turned around and came back to the Canadian side, and the fellow waved us up to the wicket. And that’s where it all started.”
The Howses were told they were not allowed to come back into Canada unless they went into quarantine for 14 days.
“We said, ‘what do you mean, come back into Canada? We were just refused entry into the U.S. He said ‘it doesn’t matter — you’re entering into Canada from the U.S.’”
The Howses tried to explain that they had not been in the U.S. at all — that they had been denied entry, but the border guard started listing the penalties they could face if they didn’t go into the 14-day quarantine, including jail time and enormous fines.
“We were treated like crap — like we were a couple of idiots. No compassion at all. And he placed us under quarantine. And he told us we had to go directly to our address [in Invermere], and that he would be contacting the RCMP, and they will at any time during the 14 days to make sure we were at the place of quarantine.
“You are not allowed to leave your property, have anyone come to your residence … “The rules set down by this fellow — I was just appalled.”
The Howses duly returned to Invermere on Oct. 8 and went into quarantine. Grant then called Member of Parliament Rob Morrison, looking for some help on the issue.
“Rob has taken it a long way up the ladder in the political aspect of things — he’s really been a great help to us, in trying to get this resolved,” Grant said.
The Howses subsquently got a call from a Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) superintendent.
“He told us this order had come down, that anyone going into the U.S. and coming back into Canada were to go into a 14-day quarantine. Doesn’t matter if you were there for 15 minutes of 60 days. I told him that we had been denied entry. He said there was nothing he could do — it came down as an order from Service Canada.
“I said, ‘just the same, we hadn’t left the country!’ So why were we place in quarantine?’ He said, ‘I’m sorry but that’s the rule.’”
“I then told him about the actions of his employee, and how we were treated. He did say he would look into that.”
Last week, the Howses got a call from Service BC, who confirmed that they would remain under quarantine until October 22. And again, their remonstrations that they had not even left the country — that they had simply driven a few metres to a turn-around spot so they could go back to the Canadian side — did not make any difference. “Those are the rules.”
Grant was not allowed to speak with anyone higher up the ladder at Service BC.
The Howses had planned on renewing their Mexican residency while there. In fact, the deadline to do so was October 23, at the Mexican consulate in Baja. But the Howse’s agent in Baja was able to get an extension period for them to do so. The Howse’s ultimate plan to get dual citizenship, Mexican and Canadian, for all the time they spend there.
“We love the place, the country, the people,” Grant said.
In the meantime, the Howses are stuck in quarantine, and are still furious.
“This is BS,” Grant said. “It’s a bunch of politics that didn’t have to happen. This quarantine is okay in its place, but it doesn’t have to apply to everybody. Who sets these rules?
“There has to be a more neutral area.”