Nurse says she was deemed non-essential by CBSA, as agency seeks to clarify land border rules

Amherstburg nurse Kaitlyn Desjardins is one of many travellers who expected to cross the border without issue — but, last week, was denied immediate reentry back home into Canada.

Windsor MP Brian Masse says his office is being flooded with calls on the issue

Kaitlyn Desjardins recently took up a new job at William Beaumont Hospital as a registered nurse — but when she crossed the border to attend a mandatory orientation session, she was forced to pay $150 and stay overnight in the U.S. to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test result to the CBSA. (Michelle Parent-Seaver/Facebook)

An Amherstburg nurse denied immediate reentry into Canada, despite believing she would have no problem crossing the border as an essential worker, says the federal government and Canadian border officials need to "get on the same page" as concerns continue over how rules at the Canada-U.S. land border are enforced.

She's far from alone.

Windsor West MP Brian Masse says his office has been flooded with calls from individuals who used to cross the border without issue — but, as of last week, were being denied immediate reentry back home into Canada.

"Nurses, engineers, teachers, business owners and workers in social services, for example, are now penalized," Masse said Friday in the House of Commons.

"How can people be expected to comply [with the land border rules] when they don't have a definite directive from the minister? This situation needs to be altered."

On Friday, CBC News reported that an Ontario man who serves as president of a construction company was fined $3,755 by Canadian border officials after attempting to cross back into Canada through the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. He was deemed a non-essential traveller last Tuesday after previously crossing the border in the past about once every two weeks with no issue.

Following the publication of that story, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) reached back out to CBC News to clarify its enforcement of rules at the land border.

According to the agency, its rule regarding frequency of travel (affecting whether or not an individual would be permitted reentry back into Canada without having to meet pre-testing or quarantine requirements) applies only to cross-border workers — and not essential workers.

"CBSA officers use all of the information available to them when a traveller is seeking entry into Canada, to determine which set of instructions (exempt or required to quarantine) apply to the traveller," the CBSA said.

This means cross-border workers can only enter Canada without having to meet pre-testing and quarantine requirements if they attend a "normal place of employment" for work and "establish a regular pattern of travel," generally defined as daily or weekly.

In practice, this should also mean essential service providers — including health-care workers, truck drivers and law enforcement — are exempt from pre-testing and quarantine requirements when crossing the land border into Canada for work-related reasons.

A close-up picture of a Canada Border Services Agency shoulder patch.
The Canada Border Services Agency says essential service providers, including health care workers, are exempt from pre-testing and quarantine requirements when crossing the border for work-related reasons. However, CBSA says it does not comment on individual cases. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

But that's not what happened to Kaitlyn Desjardins. Ten days ago, she crossed into the U.S. to attend an orientation session for her new job as a registered nurse at William Beaumont Hospital. On her way back, she said, the CBSA informed her that she was crossing into Canada as a non-essential traveller.

Before crossing the border, Desjardins had been told by her new employer that she'd be exempt from pre-testing requirements due to the nature of her work, she added.

"I let them know I was a nurse. I gave them my letter of employment. I had all my documents on me. I even had my work visa. It didn't matter. They said that what I was crossing for wasn't essential," she said.

Desjardins was pulled into secondary and given two options: drive straight to Toronto without stopping anywhere and quarantine in a Toronto hotel for 14 days or go back into the U.S. and come back to the border crossing with proof of a negative COVID-19 test result.

She chose the latter option.

"I had to make some arrangements for somewhere to stay and ended up getting a swab in Detroit," said Desjardins, adding she paid $150 US for the test and was unable to return to Canada until the next day.

"I think the most important is that everyone gets on the same page. Right now, even still, they're not. I'm hearing so many different things from nurses, CBSA, public health. Everyone is on a different page."

As a health-care worker, Desjardins said she understands the importance of keeping people safe. But these current border rules are affecting people's livelihoods. 

"It's not really a good feeling when you're told you can either drive four hours away without going to pick anything up or you have to go back and not be able to enter Canada."

Brian Masse, MP for Windsor West, says his office has fielded calls from nurses, teachers and business owners who have been given trouble at the border while trying to cross back into Canada. (ParlVu)

In a follow-up statement to CBC News, the CBSA said it does not comment on individual cases.


Sanjay Maru is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email him at