Yukoner ordered to self-isolate after berry-picking at border

A Whitehorse woman says she's been ordered to self-isolate at home for 14 days after a solo excursion to her favourite berry-picking spot near the Canada-U.S. border.

'I didn't see anything posted. So I just went ... to my berry patches,' says Laura Sutherst

Laura Sutherst of Whitehorse picked a lot of berries last week for her famous pies. And she's got time to do some baking, because she's been ordered to self-isolate for 14 days. (Submitted by Laura Sutherst)

A Whitehorse woman has been ordered to self-isolate at home for 14 days after a solo excursion to her favourite berry-picking spot near the Canada-U.S. border.

Laura Sutherst — who says she's famous for her pies — didn't realize she had crossed a line.

"I have some secret spots that I've scouted out. So I just went through Canadian customs as usual," she said.

It's about 12 kilometres from Canadian customs in Fraser, B.C., to the U.S. border. The area in between is at high elevation and experiences harsh winters and heavy snowfall.

It is one of the farthest distances between any Canadian and American border stations. Some locals refer to the area in between as "no-man's land."

Sutherst said she thought she might be stopped on her way at the Canadian border station, or that there would be signage.

"I had heard we were allowed to go there. And I didn't see anything posted. So I just went about my business and went to my berry patches," she said.

Picked by herself

Sutherst said she took for granted that she could pick blueberries even a little past the "Welcome to Alaska" sign along the highway, where she knew she would get into prime berry-picking terrain. 

She was by herself and saw no one as she picked, she said. Then she jumped back into her VW Westfalia camper van and started heading home with the prized ingredient for her pies.

She thought crossing back into Canada would be the same as in other years.

"You know, when you went through customs, you just showed them your blue hands from berry picking and half the time they didn't even ask you for ID," she said.

I told them my story and ... they were confused. They were like, 'I've never heard this one.- Laura Sutherst

This time was different, though. She said she was stopped and questioned by a Canada Border Services agent.

Sutherst said she told the agent she had been picking berries about a kilometre past the "Welcome to Alaska" sign.

Laura Sutherst of Whitehorse recently went to her favourite berry-picking spot, past the Canadian customs post on the South Klondike Highway. She says she's now been told to self-isolate for 14 days. (Mark Evans/CBC)

"I told them my story and ... they were confused. They were like, 'I've never heard this one,'" she recalled. 

Sutherst said the agent made phone calls, searched her van and kept her there for around two hours.

"In the end, he gave me a stern warning, which was actually sort of serious because if I'm caught doing that again, I'm banned from going to the States for five years," she said.

"I've been red-flagged."

Told to self-isolate

The border agent told her it was up to him to decide whether she would have to self-isolate, but he informed her that she wouldn't have to.

Three days later, Sutherst said she got a phone call from the Canadian government, telling her otherwise.

She's now a few days into her self-isolation, and taking it in stride. She said it's given her time to bake blueberry pies.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency declined an interview about Sutherst's case, and said the agency could not speak about specific cases because of privacy concerns.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said in an email to Radio-Canada that the rules about entering Canada can be found on the government's website.

"People coming into Canada have to follow Canada's rules to get into the country, no matter where they enter," Bagnell wrote. 

"The rules are the same everywhere on getting into Canada. There are no exceptions."