British Columbia

B.C. traveller says airline also at fault after she entered Canada with inadmissable COVID test

A young medical student is asking why American Airlines allowed her to board a plane to Canada where she was fined $5,750 under Canada's Quarantine Act for having an improper COVID test prior to travel.

Mariam Fadel was fined $5,750 after presenting a negative antigen test, which Canada does not accept

Mariam Fadel was fined almost $6,000 after she arrived at Vancouver International Airport with proof of a negative COVID antigen test, which is not accepted under Canadian travel guidelines. She is in quarantine in her parents' home in Richmond. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A young medical student is asking why American Airlines allowed her to board a plane to Canada where she was fined $5,750 under Canada's Quarantine Act for having an improper COVID test prior to travel.

Mariam Fadel, 23, has attended school on the small Caribbean island of Aruba for the past two years. In July, following Canada's decision to loosen public health rules for fully vaccinated travellers, she decided to return home to Richmond, B.C., in order to visit friends and family.

Fadel, who has received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, says she got a COVID-19 test 72 hours before her flight, as required by federal rules.

It was only after arriving at Vancouver International Airport on July 7, however, that she learned she had received the wrong test. 

"I was definitely taken by surprise," said Fadel. "I read the rules. I got the app. To my knowledge, I did everything correctly. The airline allowed me to board."

Fadel presented border agents with proof of a negative antigen test, considered less accurate than the federally mandated molecular tests, the most common of which is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

She was then issued a fine and placed under quarantine.

While she admits she could have read the government rules more closely, Fadel says American Airlines also failed to do its "due diligence."

In response to CBC's request for an interview, American Airlines wrote it was unaware of her case. 

"A member of our customer relations team will be reaching out so we can learn more about the issues she experienced."

Antigen tests accepted by some health authorities

Fadel says part of the issue is that some countries accept antigen tests, while others don't.

The U.S. Centre for Disease Control, for instance, accepts negative antigen tests from airline passengers entering the country.

Molecular COVID-19 tests, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), seen here, are the only ones currently accepted under Canada's travel rules. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Canada's Public Health Agency, however, notes its requirements have been public "for months."

"Foreign nationals without a valid molecular test or with symptoms of COVID-19 will not be allowed into Canada. If a Canadian citizen, person registered under the Indian Act, or permanent resident does not provide proof of a valid molecular test result they will be allowed entry, but may be subject to a fine of up to $5,000 per day or face criminal prosecution, and may also be required to go to a designated quarantine facility if they are symptomatic on arrival at the border, or do not have a suitable quarantine plan."

Data reported voluntarily to Public Health Canada, meanwhile shows 3,113 fines have been issued for Quarantine Act offences in the past fifteen months, including 506 for those arriving without a valid pre-entry test.

As she waits out her 14-day quarantine at her parents' home in Richmond, B.C., Fadel worries she won't be able to return to Aruba to resume her studies in August.

At the same time, she says she plans to fight the ticket — and the fine.

With files from Belle Puri

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