A screencapture of a government of Canada video demonstrating the ArriveCan app.
A screencapture of a government of Canada video demonstrating the ArriveCan app.

Across Canada, the provinces and territories have removed mask mandates and vaccine passports in almost all settings. Because health care is a provincial and territorial jurisdiction, the mandates did not come into effect simultaneously, although several provinces began to remove restrictions as early as March of this year. There are exceptions for congregate care settings, but even these are not nationwide.

As of June 1, there are some 50 countries worldwide that allow visitors to enter without a COVID-19 test or quarantine or with very few restrictions Effective June 12, travellers entering the United States no longer are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Canada’s federal government appears to be an outlier in this regard. The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to require the use of the ArriveCan app. This app must be completed by anyone entering or returning to Canada, despite their vaccine status.

This writer has filled out this app on two occasions. The first occurred when returning from a cruise in December 2021. One of the requirements of ArriveCan is that it be filled out within 72 hours of arrival in Canada. This is not an easy task when wifi, if available at sea, is spotty at best and slow in the extreme. Uploading the required documentation is almost impossible.

At that time, the ArriveCan app did not anticipate cruisers returning home. We were asked to list every country visited since leaving Canada, if only to change planes en route to our destination. This meant six for me. At the completion of this and every question, an opportunity was given to check the responses.

After confirming answers, it’s on to the next question. This second question asked for confirmation of a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of intended arrival in Canada. The ship had been requiring daily saliva tests for this purpose, but that was not enough for the ArriveCan app. All passengers lined up for nasal swabs; results came via email.

I tested negative, but I could not upload proof because of the wifi situation. Once again, I had the chance to review my response. The next question was baffling. In what country did I receive the pcr test? None; we were at sea. I listed the country under whose flag the ship was registered. This was not one of the countries I had visited and there was no way to go back to the previous list to add it.

Apparently, this was not a serious infraction. On arrival in Canada, I was not asked to show the ArriveCan app or any other evidence related to COVID-19 vaccinations or testing.

More recently, in late May, I drove into the U.S. By this point, I was quadruple-vaccinated, with two shots and two boosters. Again, I filled out the ArriveCan app to return to Canada. The questions were quite different from those in December. For one thing, a question at the start asked the method of travel back to Canada. I chose “vehicle.”

The app then asked if I had NEXUS or Passport. This was not an either/or question. On the trip down, there was only one lane of five opened at the border crossing; the NEXUS lane was closed. I did not know whether the NEXUS lane would be open at the border crossing on the return trip, so I chose both.

From this point on, the ArriveCan app assumed that there were two passengers in the car, both with my name, one holding a NEXUS card and the other a passport. There was no option to change this.

I then had to identify the border crossing I would use in the next 72 hours. Unfortunately, this information is not available on the CBS website.  My route was dictated by GPS, which was no help.  I chose the most popular crossing between Vermont and Quebec. About an hour south of the border, the GPS routing was changed and I ended up crossing at a Canada Border Service crossing with only one lane. I still don’t know where it was.

The CBS agent asked for identification. Either NEXUS or passport would do. He asked for my ArriveCan app, but made no comment about the incorrect border crossing entry. He asked why I had not uploaded my vaccine passport. In truth, I had not seen a request to do so. He waved me through.

The next day, I received the folloiwng email from the Government of Canada:

(English version ***la version française suit***)

This email is intended for you or those in your travel group who recently entered Canada and who are required to complete a quarantine.

Symptoms Status Reporting Required

As a traveler that recently entered Canada, you must complete the following symptom reporting with the Government of Canada daily during your 14-day quarantine period.

This information will be used to support public health compliance follow-up.

For symptom reporting, please use the following self-assessment tool: https://arrivecan.cbsa-asfc.cloud-nuage.canada.ca/

I had not been advised that I was required to quarantine. I deleted the email.

A second, identical email came the next day. After searching several websites, I found an 800-number to call for information. The agent thanked me for calling the Government of Canada and then asked where I had found the phone number. She advised that I had been chosen randomly and the options were either/or… Either I had been required to quarantine, or I had to report symptoms.

Emails continued to arrive daily and I reported a lack of symptoms. On the eighth day, the email changed. It stated categorically that that day, a PCR test was required. Mandatory. Had I had one? I checked “no.” Had I sent it to an approved laboratory? Again, “no.” There followed a list of consequences for non-compliance ranging from fines to visits from inspectors to imprisonment.

Once again, I called the 800-number. Once again, I was thanked for calling the Government of Canada and then asked where I found the phone number. I explained my concerns, then was put on hold. The agent returned and replied that “it was a glitch in the system.” I should not have received the emails and I should just ignore them.

I asked for evidence that it was an error and was told that there were lots of calls about the same situation. I asked for documentation, should I receive a visit from an inspector. I was told I wouldn’t, with no explanation.

Neither the Government of Canada nor the Public Health Agency of Canada website has information about this “glitch.” No announcement has been made public about this error. And neither the office of the federal Ministry of Health nor my own Member of Parliament responded to requests for comments in time for publication deadline.

I support evidence-based decision-making regarding COVID-19 and health issues in general, and I acknowledge that anecdotal evidence, like mine, is not data, but please remind me why Canada still insists on the use of the ArriveCan app?

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Evelyn Lazare

Evelyn H Lazare is a healthcare planner, strategist and executive. Lazare has led nation-wide healthcare organizations in Canada and has consulted to an array of healthcare and related clients in both...