Canada’s Border Policy Doesn’t Scale
By David Henderson
At most 8 people per hour.
Canada’s border policy for Americans entering Canada, effective August 9, will not scale well. I’m basing this on my experience at the Emerson border crossing in Manitoba on July 25.
First, some background. Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s border policy for Canadians, announced in June and effective in early July, Canadians are allowed to enter Canada without quarantining as long as they have had both vaccinations and have had a negative test for Covid-19 within the previous 72 hours. They still can’t fly into Canada without going through one of 4 airports: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, or Montreal. If they fly into Canada, they have to stay at a designated hotel for about 3 days while waiting for the results of a Covid test taken upon arrival at the airport. That 3 days was a show stopper for me because it cut into the time I would have at my cottage in northwestern Ontario.
So my plan was to have a friend drive me to San Jose so that I could stay overnight in a hotel there and get on a 6:02 a.m. flight to Salt Lake City. From there I would fly from SLC to Minneapolis and from Minneapolis to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Why Grand Forks, which is about 5 hours from my cottage instead of International Falls, Minnesota, which is only 3 hours from my cottage? Because no matter what dates I tried, I couldn’t find a rental car in International Falls and I could find one in Grand Forks. It all went well. At about 5:30 p.m. I picked up my rental car in Grand Forks and headed for the border.
So far it worked like clockwork.
To help it work like clockwork at the border, I had pulled down on my iPhone, days earlier, a government-created App called ArriveCan. I had uploaded a screen shot of my passport, my CDC Covid card saying that I had had the 2 shots, and my under-72-hour negative Covid test reading. I had answered the obvious questions about whether I had symptoms of Covid (no) and whether I could quarantine at a place where there would be no one to spread Covid to in the event that I had it (yes). I did wonder about the latter because I thought that my 72-hour test would show that I didn’t have Covid so I wondered whether to attribute those questions to government simply not updating its software for the new rules. As I was soon to learn, that wasn’t why those questions were there.
On the Interstate highway from Grand Forks to the border crossing at Emerson (north of Pembina, North Dakota), there were few cars. I joked with friends later that it was so deserted that you could have gone deer hunting on the interstate. That was predictable, given that almost no one in North Dakota was allowed to cross into Manitoba.
When I got to the border crossing, a pickup truck with one occupant was in front of me. It took the immigration and customs official almost 5 minutes to deal with him. I wondered if he had not filled out the ArriveCan form. At the end of his time with the official, the official handed him a blue box.
Then came my turn.
The official was very nice to me. My thought was that he was glad to have company. I answered his questions about what I was bringing in (my limit of alcohol—arbitrage, doncha know) and my clothes, books, and miscellaneous. Was I bringing tobacco products or gifts for anyone? No. He asked the gift question again shortly after. Same answer. I had never in my life felt sympathy for a border official, but this time was an exception. I almost wanted to declare tobacco or a gift to help make his day. The one question missing was about where I was going. I think that was one of the few benefits of the ArriveCan software. He still wanted to see my Canadian passport, my vaccination certificate, and my negative Covid test result.
Then he handed me a blue box and told me to drive up to a guy in civilian clothes wearing a mask and a shield. I did so, and the guy asked me to take a picture with my iPhone of something that took me to a special website. I did, and it had me fill in a bunch of information, all of which I had filled out in my ArriveCan app earlier. When it got to my street address in Minaki, I explained that there was no street address. “But you’ve got to fill it out,” he explained, “or else it won’t let you go to the next window.” I suggested that I fill in the lot number from my property tax bill, which I had brought along to show that I was going to a real place. He said that would work. So I made the number part into the street number and the letter part into the street name.
Then it asked for an apartment number. “There’s no apartment number,” I explained. He told me that the software wouldn’t work without it and told me to key in the number 1. I did. Finally, he told me to move on to the next post, where a guy with a laboratory-type head-to-toe outfit was standing. So far, it had taken at least 10 minutes. By the way, the guy with the face shield was very nice. He had a Middle Eastern accent and a name that made me think he was Iraqi or Iranian.
I had to wait until the pickup was through and then it was my turn. I’ve forgotten all the rigmarole at the next stop but what I remember was having to swab my hands and stick something up each nostril, twirl it around for 15 seconds in each nostril, and then put it in a test tube. Of course, if I had been expert at this, the stop would have taken only about 3 minutes. With all the explanations I needed about what to do, it took over 5 minutes. This guy also was very nice. He also had a Mideastern accent and an Arabic name. At the end he said it was nice meeting me, and I actually felt the same so I said “Nice meeting you too.”
The guy before him had told me to key into the website I now had on my iPhone to check my results in “about 2 or 3 days.” This sounded loosy-goosy to me. Really? He couldn’t be more specific? Given how vague his directive was, I had no intention of going to the website. If they learned that I had tested positive, I had no doubt, they would be in touch with me because they had my cell phone number and my email address. Sure enough, 3 days later, I got a notification both by email and by message on my cell phone that my results were available. I held off caving into my curiosity for about an hour and then checked. As I told my doctor-neighbour (hey, I’m in Canada now so I’m using the Canadian “u”) friend next door, I have come to love the word “negative.”
So that’s my story.
How is it relevant to people other than me? I estimate that it took the Canadian government and its contractors at least 25 minutes to deal with 2 people entering Canada. Even if they sped it up substantially, they would get at most 8 people through in an hour.
That doesn’t scale. The border policy for Americans will change later this month. If even 100 North Dakotans wanted to drive up I-29 to Winnipeg in the morning, not close to 100 of them would get through the Emerson border.
And why? Because of government overkill. I had evidence of both vaccinations and evidence of a negative Covid test in the previous 72 hours. Could I have picked up Covid on one of the 3 airplanes or in the airport? Sure. But the probability was extremely low.
What’s missing from so much of government policy in Canada and the United States is numeracy. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control, shows no understanding of simple probability theory, as Jacob Sullum has shown. Whoever put the Canadian policy together shows a lack of numeracy also.
That dog don’t hunt.
And I haven’t even talked, on a site dedicated to liberty, about the loss in liberty for Canadians and Americans.