British Columbia

Officials crack down on Alaska-bound travellers crossing U.S.-Canada border

The Canada Border Services Agency is tightening up the rules on Americans travelling through western Canada on the way to Alaska in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Foreign nationals entering from U.S. must now take 'most direct route,' display tags on vehicles, CBSA says

Beginning Friday, all foreign nationals travelling to Alaska through Canada must cross at five designated border crossings in Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The Canada Border Services Agency is tightening up the rules for Americans and other foreign nationals travelling through Western Canada on the way to Alaska, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Beginning Friday, foreign nationals travelling to Alaska for non-discretionary purposes will only be allowed to enter the country through five border crossings in Western Canada.

Each visitor will be allowed a "reasonable period of stay" to make the journey, but will be limited to following "the most direct route" to Alaska, according to a CBSA press release. They must avoid all national parks, leisure sites and tourism activities along the way, and must report to Canadian border officers when they leave the country.

Every driver will be given a tag to hang from their rear-view mirror "to support compliance," the press release says. That tag will include the date by which they must leave Canada.

B.C. Premier John Horgan praised the new rules in a statement Thursday, thanking the federal government for listening to the concerns of people living in his province.

"We look forward to the day when our borders are open and we can welcome travellers from all over but we aren't there yet," he said.

John Streicker, Yukon's minister of community services, called the new rules "great news."

"We had actually encouraged this," he said. "A lot of conversations that I have with Yukoners is around concerns about Americans in transit and how to make sure that that situation can be safer."

Right now, Americans are allowed 24 hours to drive through Yukon on their way to or from Alaska, and they're required to stick to a designated route.

There have been concerns, though, that some travellers aren't following the rules. On Wednesday, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said territorial officials have received hundreds of complaints about people violating COVID-19 restrictions, and many of those complaints are about travellers from outside the territory.

Streicker said the new CBSA rules will make it easier to keep track of people coming and going from Yukon and Canada.

"I think it makes the overall system better," he said.

The rules state that anyone travelling to Alaska must cross at one of the following locations:

  • Abbotsford-Huntingdon (British Columbia)
  • Coutts (Alberta)
  • Kingsgate (British Columbia)
  • North Portal (Saskatchewan)
  • Osoyoos (British Columbia)

They'll also be be given a handout explaining that while travelling through Canada, they must:

  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Remain in their vehicle whenever possible.
  • Not stop except when necessary.
  • Practise physical distancing.
  • Pay at the pump for gas.
  • Use a drive-thru to order food.
  • Wear a mask or face covering.
  • Use good hygiene at rest areas.

Failure to comply with the rules could lead to fines of up to $750,000 and six months in jail. If a traveller causes risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm by violating the rules, the potential consequences could be as severe as $1 million in fines and three years in prison.

Growing anger over U.S. plates

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travellers since March 21 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout that time, American travellers have been permitted to drive through Canada on their way to Alaska for necessary purposes including work and going to their primary residence.

Travellers have been encouraged to bring documentation proving the reasons for their trips through Canada.

As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths has surged in the U.S. in recent weeks, there's been growing anger in many parts of Canada over the presence of cars with American licence plates in some communities. 

People driving cars with U.S. plates say they've endured vandalism and harassment from Canadians convinced that they're Americans illegally in Canada who might potentially spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

There are several legitimate reasons why drivers of cars with U.S. plates could be in Canada — they could be essential workers, have immediate family in Canada, or be Canadian citizens or residents.

The Canada-U.S. border is currently set to remain closed to non-essential traffic until Aug. 21. 

Sample of hang tag provided to travellers headed to Alaska:

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With files from Chris Windeyer