Up to 40% of people arriving at Windsor border don't have ArriveCAN filled out: CBSA union

·5 min read
Cars line up outside border offices to enter into Canada. The president of the union representing border officers says between 30 and 40 per cent of travellers coming into parts of Canada — specifically into Windsor, Ont. — are incorrectly filling out the app, forgetting to do it or don't know it's a requirement.  (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Cars line up outside border offices to enter into Canada. The president of the union representing border officers says between 30 and 40 per cent of travellers coming into parts of Canada — specifically into Windsor, Ont. — are incorrectly filling out the app, forgetting to do it or don't know it's a requirement. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

When it comes to crossing the border into Canada, a big chunk of travellers still aren't filling out the ArriveCAN app.

President Mark Weber of the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents border workers, said between 30 and 40 per cent of travellers coming into parts of Canada — specifically into Windsor, Ont. — are either incorrectly filling out the app, forgetting to do it or don't know it's a requirement.

The federal government has said it put the app in place as a COVID-19 screening measure, and travellers must use it to declare their vaccination status prior to arriving at the border.

But Weber said the number of people not in compliance is causing headaches for officers.

"They have to help them complete it, have them complete it inside the office, which means cars backing up. It is causing delays and it's adding to an already serious situation with our low staffing levels."

He told CBC's Windsor Morning this week that border workers are doing the "best that we can" to get people through. But they're "discouraged" to find many people still aren't filling out the app, he said.

"We're in a situation where we're kind of not doing our actual work as border service officers anymore. All of our time is being spent on the app," he said.

"Travellers are arriving quite irate, obviously. When they're waiting in line for hours, it's understandable. But a lot of that is being taken out on our officers."

He said some travellers outright refuse to complete the app.

CBC/Radio-Canada
CBC/Radio-Canada

In June, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the app could have uses beyond COVID-19, including for declarations made when crossing the border.

But Weber said this isn't something the union has been consulted on, and it's "worried" about it from an efficiency and border security standpoint.

"We understand it's a public health measure — we're not doctors — but the practical nuts and bolts of how it works at the border is not something we've been consulted on."

His members, he said, could provide insight on how to better streamline the app.

At the end of June, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said it added in an optional Advance CBSA Declaration feature for air travellers at the Vancouver International Airport and Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

'It's worthless' 

The feature allows air travellers to use the app for their customs declarations to reduce time at the primary inspection kiosk or e-gate at the airport. The agency said this feature will be made available to more air passengers across different airports later this year.

As for how effective the app has been in keeping COVID-19 out of Canada, Weber said he doesn't know.

"We're not sure since no more contact tracing is happening why all of this data has to continue to be collected," he said. "I would hope from a public health standpoint there is some long term goal to it."

Mike Evans/CBC
Mike Evans/CBC

Brian Masse, NDP MP for Windsor West, said the app needs to be removed, as it's not protecting the public and it's harming local tourism.

"The app is something that is not efficient. It doesn't make us any more safe. In fact, it could lead us to being less safe as we move to more automation and we don't even have human-to-human contact as people are coming into our country."

Canada as a destination spot 'being destroyed,' MP says

"It's worthless in terms of public safety, in my opinion."

Rather, Masse said, the border needs more trained officers to provide support.

"[The app is] also branding us as an unwelcoming destination," he said. "Our branding right now as a country of a destination is being destroyed."

CBC News reached out to Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk, who represents Windsor-Tecumseh, but he was unavailable for an interview.

In an email to CBC News, the CBSA said the app has high usage.

But the CBSA added it recognizes some Canadians might not be prepared or aware that the app is a requirement. So in May, it said, it allowed officers to give fully vaccinated Canadian citizens, permanent residents and people registered under the Indian Act a onetime exemption.

Government says app still needed

"This exemption means that the traveller, entering by land, will not be subject to quarantine, testing and fines for one time only," it said. These travellers will then be given information on what their obligations are with ArriveCAN for future crossings.

The agency said since this was put in place, more than 200,000 travellers have been exempted.

In a statement, the Public Health Agency of Canada said use of ArriveCAN reduces processing times at the border since officers don't have to ask questions and input public health information manually.

"The use of ArriveCAN is also an efficient mechanism of verifying vaccine certificates in order to grant exemptions from quarantine. As travel volumes have increased in the spring and early summer of 2022, the use of ArriveCAN has become more important to relieving pressure at the border."

The agency said it will continue to adapt and review border measures, but vaccination requirements at the border remain in effect because COVID-19 continues to evolve and circulate around the world.

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