New Brunswick

Maine library busy with Canadians desperate for help with ArriveCAN app

Canadian travellers are walking through the doors at the Calais Free Library in a tough spot, looking for help navigating the ArriveCAN app required to return across the border without self-isolating.

Many New Brunswickers going to Calais, Maine, library to complete travel form

Librarian Joyce Garland has been helping dozens of confused Canadians navigate the ArriveCAN app in Calais, Maine. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The staff at the Calais Free Library in Maine have spent more time helping New Brunswickers get home over the past week than helping patrons check out books.

Canadian travellers are walking through the doors in a tough spot, looking for help navigating the ArriveCAN app required to return across the border without self-isolating. 

Joyce Garland, the library's director, said staff have helped more than 40 travellers, many who were turned back at customs, to fill out the app.

"It's quite a process," she said. "We saw people who might not have a cellphone, they may not have an email address, they had no idea how to use a computer. Just totally in the dark on what they needed to do."

The library first started to see people looking for application help in August, when the Canadian border opened to fully vaccinated Americans. That quieted down but picked up again after restrictions eased for short trips for Canadians.

"It's quite disheartening to myself and all the staff here at the library to see the dilemma people are in," Garland said.

As of Nov. 30, fully vaccinated Canadians no longer need proof of a negative molecular test when returning after less than 72 hours. All travellers entering Canada, however, must upload proof of vaccination and complete a form within the ArriveCAN app. 

With the loosened rules, New Brunswickers started venturing across the border to shop at Marden's or to visit. But many have been caught off guard at customs.

The public library in Calais, Maine has posted signs notifying travellers that staff are no longer able to help complete the ArriveCAN app. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

The influx of mostly New Brunswickers has tied up the four-person library staff, taking them away from regular tasks.

Garland, a dual citizen originally from St. Stephen, N.B., said Canadian officials have directed people to the library. They have two choices: find a way to complete ArriveCAN or quarantine for 14 days. 

"Their one size fits all application doesn't work for everybody," she said. "We have a lot of people in the area that just don't have internet at home, they don't have computers."

WATCH | American library helping confused Canadians get back home

This Maine library is overwhelmed by New Brunswickers returning to Canada

12 months ago
Duration 1:56
The Calais Free Library in Maine is helping dozens of Canadians caught off guard by the ArriveCAN app, a requirement to return home.

Some travellers forget their email passwords and need help retrieving them, while others don't even have an email account and needed help creating one from scratch to submit the form. People are also leaving their phones in Canada to prevent roaming charges and ask to use the library phone to reach relatives. 

There is a website version of ArriveCAN that travellers without a smartphone can use if they print out the receipt.

"We can't spend hours, and that's what it's taking, on sitting at the public computer and helping these people," Garland said. "And I feel really bad about that, we're had to turn some people away."

Turning people away

The Calais Free Library has posted signs near the circulation desk warning travellers that staff are no longer permitted to help with the ArriveCAN application. Information is also taped to the computers and printer.

Calais city manager Mike Ellis said he contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection, hoping its agents could relay the message to their Canadian counterparts not to direct travellers to the library.

He said the message is starting to get across about the new requirements and taking pressure off library staff. 

"They're desperate and in some cases they haven't seen friends, family in a long time," he said. "When they see something positive they jump right on it." 

The Canada Border Services Agency would not confirm to CBC News that travellers have been encouraged to go to the library, saying the agency does not comment on specific cases.

Canadian travellers have started to return to the border town of Calais, Maine, across from St. Stephen, N.B. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

Spokesperson Allan Donovan said officers will help people unaware of the mandatory use of ArriveCAN and allow them to return to the U.S. to take the time to complete the form.

"Also, where operations make it possible to do so, they can allow the traveller to complete their ArriveCAN submission upon arrival at ports of entry," he wrote in an email.

Another person, such as a friend or relative, is permitted to complete the form and print the receipt for the traveller. 

Garland said many of the Canadians stopping by have been desperate, including a couple in their 90s who came back from the border in search of help. A frustrating wait for computer access and struggles with the form prompted them to decide to quarantine instead.

"They could not get through everything," she said. "They got so upset they left."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman

Video journalist

Alexandre Silberman is a video journalist with CBC News based in Moncton. He has previously worked at CBC Fredericton, Power & Politics, and Marketplace. You can reach him by email at: alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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