Manitoba traveller questions $8,500 fines after PCR test results rejected at border

A fully vaccinated Manitoba woman and her daughter are facing hefty fines after a trip to the Caribbean last month.

Canada requires travellers to show proof of a recent negative molecular test for people to re-enter the country from abroad.

But in this case the women said their results weren’t accepted at the border because of where the tests were taken.

“At no time prior to did it say, ‘no these are not acceptable,’” said Susan McKillop of Stonewall, Man. who, along with her daughter, was fined $8,500 while trying to get back into Canada. “So, we were pretty surprised at the border.”

Five days before Canada’s non-essential travel advisory kicked in, McKillop, who had recently recovered from a head-on collision, drove with her daughter to Fargo, ND and they caught a flight to Aruba.

They spent around one week soaking in the views and basking in the warmth before making their way back to Canada via the United States.

The fully vaccinated women got PCR tests in Aruba Dec. 17 before their flight back to Fargo on Dec. 18.

McKillop said on Dec. 19 within 72 hours of getting their tests, which were negative, they drove up to the Canadian border in Emerson, Man. where they were met with the unpleasant surprise — fines of $8,500 each under the federal Quarantine Act.

“Over the course of two hours it took for her to come back and say, ‘well, it’s because you didn’t have the PCR test in the United States,’” McKillop said.

She said they were not given an option to go back and get a test in the U.S. but they were sent home with tests to take themselves which also came back negative.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said in a statement it does not issue the fines.

“Where questions arise with regards to a traveller’s quarantine plan, health status, or molecular test documentation, CBSA border services officers refer the traveller to a PHAC quarantine officer who will make a determination on the next steps,” the CBSA said.

In a statement the Public Health Agency of Canada said while it cannot comment on specific cases, the fine for violating the section 58 of the Quarantine Act is $5,000, plus applicable provincial fees.

"Prior to December 21, when entering Canada via the United States by land, the pre-entry molecular test had to be completed in the U.S. As of December 21, the requirement is simply that the pre-entry molecular test be taken outside of Canada,” reads the statement.

Mary Jane Hiebert, chair of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, said the fine is steep but thinks the issue stems from the time the women spent in the U.S.

“If they would have flown from Aruba through the United States into Canada without getting out of that airport in the United States, they’re in transit and then that test from Aruba should have worked,” Hiebert said.

Hiebert said many people are postponing trips, but travellers who choose to go abroad may face challenges amid a crush of omicron cases.

She said it is important to have insurance in case you catch COVID during your trip and have to stay longer than planned.

“There is an insurance policy that you can buy that when you are at destination and you get COVID and you have to quarantine that those expenses are covered,” Hiebert said.

Susan Postma, regional manager with CAA Manitoba, said it is important to ask questions about insurance coverage prior to your trip.

“When there are active advisories there are different parameters of coverage that would be supported by an insurance policy,” Postma said. “It’s very unique to the traveler.”

McKillop and her daughter thought their Aruba results would be accepted and did not see anywhere in the rules a test specifically from the U.S. was required for re-entry to Canada.

At the time, Canada was allowing residents who travelled to the U.S. for less than 72 hours to return without proof of a negative PCR test.

“We have not found anything saying you cannot enter from another country without having another PCR test,” McKillop said.

Despite the fines, McKillop doesn’t regret going.

She said they have hired a lawyer and plan to challenge their tickets.