Several travellers have told CBC News they received dozens of calls and emails from the Canadian government asking them to verify they’re self isolating — with one couple getting a visit from police — even though fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents have been allowed to skip quarantine when returning home from abroad for more than a month.
The travellers say they were fully vaccinated for over two weeks before their trips and tested negative for COVID-19 and they had downloaded their proof of vaccination onto ArriveCan, a mobile app developed by the Canadian government.
Janice Sills, who lives in Woodstock, Ont., says the calls from the government started after she was denied entry at the Detroit-Windsor border crossing on July 6.
Sills says she and her husband Henry, who’s an American citizen and Canadian permanent resident, wanted to see their family in the United States. Border officials said her husband could go through since he was American, but that she couldn’t as it was deemed to be a non-essential trip.
They were escorted back to the Canadian side and required to do a COVID-19 test administered by a company called Switch Health, which is contracted by the federal government to handle testing for those entering Canada.
Sills says the person doing the testing, after hearing they were both fully vaccinated and all that had happened at the border, told them they wouldn’t need the test kit that people have to use on their eighth day of quarantine.
She says she and her husband were notified a day later that their tests were negative. Yet every day since, Sills says she got between three to six calls from the Canadian government.
‘We thought we were doing everything correctly’
Sills says Switch Health told her they were robocalls and that she didn’t have to pay any attention to them.
But she was stunned to see an OPP officer knock on her door the next day to see why the calls weren’t answered and if she and her husband were self-isolating. The police request also came from a robocall, according to Sills.
“My heart stopped because there’s a massive fine if you don’t pay attention,” Sills said.
Violating the Quarantine Act is a federal offence and could lead to up to six months in prison, up to $750,000 in fines, or both.
“We thought we were doing everything correctly,” Sills said.
Heath Canada responds
“Fully vaccinated travellers may receive automated messages from ArriveCAN after entry into Canada. If they were deemed fully vaccinated by a Government of Canada official, they may ignore these notifications,” Anne Génier, a media relations adviser at Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), wrote in a statement to CBC News.
“They are not required to complete any reporting after entry into Canada.”
Génier said the Canada Border Services Agency and PHAC are working to address the issue.
“ArriveCAN will be updated early this week to include a fix whereby the vaccinated travellers in a group submission will not be asked to complete post-border reporting; the unvaccinated travellers will continue their reporting for the duration of their quarantine period as required,” Génier wrote.
Switch Health told CBC News that it’s not in a position to comment on quarantine or ArriveCAN notifications.
Herman Stewart, who arrived in Toronto from Jamaica on Aug. 2, says he’s worried about a potential police visit.
“Every time the doorbell rings, I’m going to think if somebody’s coming to arrest me,” he said.
When he arrived, he showed airport officials his proof of vaccination on the ArriveCAN app and was told he would not need to quarantine or complete a COVID-19 test on his eighth day.
A day later, he started receiving emails that stated he was under a 14-day quarantine and that he needed to submit daily symptom reports.
He tried calling the number included at the bottom of the email but was sent to a voicemail that said people should ignore emails asking them to quarantine if they qualify for an exemption.
But on Monday morning, he got another email asking to complete a COVID-19 test.
Stewart says he feels “stressed” about the situation, which he sees as “harassment.”
“I come in with all the proof that I’m vaccinated and I’m negative and they’re still bothering me,” he said.
“I don’t know where it’s going to end.”