Ron Daymond and Evelyn Herskovitz were stunned when they were ordered to quarantine for 14 days after returning to the Canadian land border on May 22 following a day-trip to Plattsburgh, N.Y.
The fully vaccinated couple said a border officer told them they must quarantine because they didn't fill out the ArriveCAN app.
"It's ludicrous," said Herskovitz from her home in Montreal. "People don't even have to quarantine for 14 days now when they have COVID, so it doesn't make any sense."
The federal government has dropped most travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people. However, it still requires them to use the ArriveCAN mobile app or desktop version to submit their travel and COVID-19-related health information within 72 hours before their arrival to Canada.
Travellers who fail to do so could face a 14-day quarantine and even a $5,000 fine.
Some politicians say it's time to axe the app because it creates hassles for travellers and hampers tourism.
Complaints about ArriveCAN include technical glitches, harsh penalties for non-compliers, and not being user-friendly for seniors.
"When I say ArriveCAN, what words come to mind? 'Unreliable', 'frustrating,' 'ageist,' 'broken,' ... these are some of the words constituents of mine have used," said Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho last month during question period in the House of Commons.
"The app is so difficult that some seniors are having to cancel trips."
The federal government announced on Wednesday that ArriveCAN will stay in place at least until June 30.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) told CBC News in an email it has measures in place to assist travellers with ArriveCAN. They include, when feasible, helping people fill out the app at the land border or letting them return to the U.S. to complete it, said the CBSA.
Spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said, as of May 24, "to allow for more flexibility," the CBSA will let vaccinated Canadian land travellers off with a warning the first time they neglect to fill out the app.
Daymond and Herskovitz — who travelled on May 22 — said they were offered no options, even though this was their first trip outside Canada since the pandemic, and they didn't know land travellers must fill out the app.
"We have vaccine passports. We have our travel documents," said Herskovitz. "We're being penalized because we didn't have an app on our phones."
Because the couple must quarantine, Daymond, a service technician, said he was forced to take two weeks off work without pay.
"We have a mortgage to pay. It's a dent in our budget," said Herskovitz. "It's quite the punishment."
The CBSA said it can't comment on individual cases.
$5 service to fill out app
The Public Health Agency of Canada said ArriveCAN is required to help protect the health of travellers and speed up processing time at the border.
"It is the fastest, easiest and most secure way for travellers to show they meet all public health requirements," said spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau in an email.
But the union representing CBSA officers says the app is causing line-ups.
"We do have travellers who show up not having completed it, which obviously delays things greatly, especially so at land borders," said Mark Weber, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union.
Some of those people wind up at C&E Feeds in Calais, Maine, looking for help.
The parcel pick-up and farm store sits close to the New Brunswick border. For a $5 fee — which covers the cost of staff time — employees help travellers fill out the app.
Manager Sue Provencher said C&E Feeds serves up to a dozen Canadian and American travellers a day, many sent there by local CBSA officers.
CBSA "asked us if we would [help], because they were having to turn around a lot of people," she said.
Many people requesting assistance are seniors, said Provencher.
"A lot of the older people don't have computer access. They don't have cell phones, they don't have laptops and tablets and they don't know how to use them."
The CBSA confirmed that officers sometimes provide inquiring travellers with information on places offering ArriveCAN assistance.
Watch: Tourism industry rebound hampered by airport line-ups
Niagara Falls, Ont., Mayor Jim Diodati said the app is a turn-off for Americans of all ages who can't be bothered to visit Canada until it's dropped.
According to Statistics Canada, Americans made 479,500 road trips to Canada in April, a 50 per cent decrease compared to pre-pandemic April 2019.
"It's just another layer of red tape," said Diodati about the app. "It's another reason to not come to Canada, to bypass us and go somewhere else."