British Columbia

B.C. woman fined $5,700 at border said agents unaware of new travel exemption issued by Canadian government

Marlane Jones decided to cross the border to buy gas after Ottawa issued an exemption allowing British Columbians to make short trips into the U.S. without having to do a PCR test.

Marlane Jones fined after 10-minute trip to Washington state to buy gas

A B.C. woman said Canadian agents at the Pacific Highway border crossing were unaware of a new federal exemption introduced for people crossing the border to buy essential supplies.

Marlane Jones thought she was doing the right thing by heading across the border to buy gas in the U.S.

Instead, her 10-minute trip ended with a $5,700 fine and scolding from Canadian agents at the Pacific Highway border crossing in Surrey, B.C.

"I was in tears. I was a bit frightened. I didn't know what was going to happen to me," said the 68-year old. 

Jones said she decided to gas up in Blaine, Wash., after seeing the news about Ottawa approving an exemption allowing British Columbians from flood-affected areas to make short trips into the U.S. for gas or essentials without having to provide a negative PCR test for COVID-19.

Marlane Jones received a $5,700 fine upon returning to Canada from a 10-minute trip across the border to buy gas. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The exemption was introduced as those in flood-affected areas in southern B.C. are being limited to 30 litres of gas per visit due to supply chain issues resulting from widespread flooding, it was announced on Sunday by Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair. 

But the border agents Jones dealt with on Monday had no knowledge of it.

"[The agent] was quite stern and said I was violating the [Quarantine] Act because I didn't have the PCR test. I told her [the regulation] had been changed, but she wasn't buying it," said Jones.

Jones said, after being sent inside the border enforcement office, agents there gave her two options: accept the hefty fine or turn around and go back to Washington state for a PCR test and possible 72-hour wait for results.

"They also said I was the ninth person they had ticketed already early in the morning. I said they should maybe watch TV and see what we were being told."

On Tuesday, Blair admitted there was some confusion around the exemption.

"That direction was given to border services and clearly some clarification was required. But that's now been given," he said.

He said cases of those who were possibly fined in error were being reviewed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, which oversees quarantine violations.

Border Services Agency says guidelines changing

Starting Nov. 30, an exemption to quarantine rules will allow all fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents, who take short trips abroad, to skip showing proof of a negative COVID test.

The exemption will apply to those who depart and re-enter Canada within 72 hours, and will also apply to those who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said there can be a transition period that "may lead to some inconsistencies'' when operational guidelines are changed.

"We are working to ensure clear application of this at the border," CBSA said in a statement to CBC News.

Jones said it's surprising that border agents were unaware of the exemption, especially because it was widely covered by news organizations.

In the meantime, she's gone to the courthouse in Surrey to file a ticket dispute, and is hoping to hear the fine has been rescinded.

"No one has phoned me officially and told me my ticket has been bounced," she said. "I guess the proof will come when I go to pay my insurance in January."

CBSA is reminding people that the B.C. exemption does not apply to discretionary, non-essential travel. 

"This means that travellers who enter the U.S. for the purposes of shopping for non-essential goods, or to eat at restaurants, visit friends or attend events, would be deemed discretionary and would not be exempt from the requirements for a molecular [PCR] test," the agency said. 

With files from Jon Hernandez