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B.C. residents can buy essential goods in U.S., return without PCR test: CBSA

Confusion over the new rules resulted in a number of people receiving a $5,700 ticket

The Canada Border Service Agency confirmed Tuesday that B.C. residents crossing the U.S. border to purchase essential items like gas and food are not required to take a COVID-19 PCR test upon their return.

However, CBSA travellers branch and COVID task force vice-president Denis Vinette stressed that the exemptions are only for people who take short trips to buy essential goods. People who stop at a restaurant, see friends, or visit a vacation property, for example, will not be granted an exemption.

The new exemption for B.C. residents was put in place Sunday (Nov. 21) as a way to relieve pressure on the limited food and fuel supplies in B.C. caused by significant flooding.

RELATED: South Surrey senior who went to U.S. to buy gas hit with $5,700 fine

However, there was some confusion on Monday, regarding the new exemption clause. Multiple reports surfaced of people – who’d crossed the border briefly to purchase gas – receiving a $5,700 ticket for returning without a PCR test.

South Surrey senior Marlane Jones, for example, saw on the news that she would be allowed to cross into the U.S. to purchase gas. She did so Monday morning, but on her return to Canada, CBSA officers sent her to be interviewed by the Public Health Agency, which issued her a $5,700 ticket.

Without speaking to specific cases, Vinette confirmed that people did receive tickets they should have not received.

Vinette explained that prior to Sunday’s announcement, CBSA officers were only offering exemptions to B.C. residents who reside in flood-stricken areas and had little option but to cross the border for essential goods.

Sunday’s announcement, which broadened that approach to allow all B.C. residents to return without a PCR test if buying essential goods, did not make its way to frontline CBSA officers.

“Those transition periods always entail a period where briefing our officers, getting the direction out, having it applied, sometimes it can create a bit of instances of road bumps,” Vinette said. “So in this case, the road bump was that CBSA officers were still making the determination, as they had been since the start of the flood, that you in South Surrey don’t need to go the U.S.”

Vinette said that people who received a ticket for crossing to buy essential items, like gas or groceries, on Sunday or Monday should dispute their ticket. He said the ticket includes information on how to do that.

Vinette stressed that the exemption is only in place to support the gas and essential goods supply in B.C. as it pertains to the B.C. flood.

“It’s really targeted. Folks need to understand that their travels have to be aligned with that. In terms of shopping, seeing friends, (visiting) restaurants… Five days from now, that day is coming if you’re vaccinated. So just hold off, don’t get into that type of travel just yet, because you won’t be exempted from the requirement for a test.”

Come Nov. 30, fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents who are visiting the U.S. for less than 72 hours won’t need a molecular test for COVID-19 in order to return home.

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About the Author: Aaron Hinks

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