Border agency made a mistake in issuing U.S. billionaire a quarantine exemption: Blair

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says an American billionaire was mistakenly permitted to enter Canada without following the 14-day quarantine rule because of a decision by the Canada Border Services Agency.

Public safety minister says businesswoman Liz Uihlein should not have been allowed into Canada

Elizabeth Uihlein and Uline executive Jacob Peters arrive for a Sept. 2019 state dinner at the White House honouring Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Uihlein's exemption from the mandatory 14-day quarantine period came as a result of a mistake by the CBSA, says Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says an American billionaire was mistakenly permitted to enter Canada without following the 14-day quarantine rule because of a decision by the Canada Border Services Agency.

"No special entry exemptions were provided to Uline executives, nor were any National Interest Exemptions. This was not a political decision," Blair said on Twitter Thursday.

"A decision was made by officers based on the information provided. Entry should not have been permitted."

Blair said his government is "working with the CBSA to ensure that similar cases do not occur again."

Yesterday, a CBC News investigation revealed that Liz Uihlein — the 75-year-old president and CEO of Uline Inc., a Wisconsin-based retailer of shipping, packing and janitorial supplies — flew to Toronto on her private jet Aug. 25 to visit one of the company's facilities in Milton, Ont. Two senior executives joined her on the trip.

WATCH | Ottawa says letting U.S. executives skip quarantine a mistake:

Ottawa says letting U.S. executives skip quarantine a mistake

2 years ago
Duration 2:52
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says it was a mistake to allow executives from U.S.-based Uline to skip quarantine on a trip to Canada, but the decision was made by a Canadian Border Services agent, not the government.

Uihlein and her husband are currently the top donors to the Republican Party.

A spokesperson for Uline said all three were granted formal exemptions from the two-week quarantine period that has been in place since March. 

Blair is one of five federal ministers or officials who can grant ministerial exemptions for individuals when it is deemed to be in the national  interest. The others are Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.

Blair said today Uihlein did not receive one of these exemptions.

Discretionary vs. essential

CBSA border agents also have the power to decide whether travel is essential or discretionary. An internal CBSA document obtained by Radio-Canada in June offered some insight into how agents make those decisions.

According to a CBSA spokesperson, Uihlein was allowed into the country for "non-discretionary" travel. It's a status reserved for workers going to their normal places of employment — provided they aren't directly caring for people 65 years of age or older during the first 14 days of their trip.

"However, a subsequent review of the information concluded that the travel in this case should have been categorized as discretionary and entry denied under the existing [Order in Council] travel restrictions," the CBSA spokesperson told CBC News. 

The CBSA also said that the agency collects "basic biographical data, contact information, and quarantine based information" for all travellers required to isolate after arriving in the country and passes that information on to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). 

Once PHAC has this information, PHAC officials can decide when and if to pass the information on to provincial authorities or law enforcement officials, the spokesperson said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford reacted to the news of Uihlein's exemption early this morning, saying that there should be one rule for everyone no matter who they are.

"I don't care if you have 50 cents or you have $10 billion. It doesn't make a difference. You know, the rules are the rules and they have to follow the rules and regulations," the premier said.

Ford says he wants all non-essential foreign visitors to "treat our rules with respect" and stay away from Ontario until it's safe for the province to welcome them back with open arms.

Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs tweeted that it's "not credible" to suggest that the border agency would not have informed the relevant cabinet ministers that an exception to the quarantine procedures had been made.

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