Canada won't say if free COVID-19 tests are admissible at the border

Nov 8 2021, 5:35 pm

The Public Health Agency of Canada won’t give a solid answer about whether free COVID-19 tests administered by health authorities will let Canadians re-enter the country after a day trip to the US.

Canadians have raised questions about the possibility of travellers abusing free tests for symptomatic people when cross-border shopping trips are allowed again on November 8. Canada requires a negative PCR test that’s less than 72 hours old for entry into the country — but allows Canadians going for short trips to get tested before they leave.

“We don’t want to see people going and pretending to have COVID-19 symptoms so they can get a test so they can go shopping. I’m not saying British Columbians would do that, but it’s a possibility,” BC Premier John Horgan said during a news conference last month.

Free tests from Ontario and BC contain all of the information required except for the civic address of the testing centre, but PHAC wouldn’t say whether they could be used to enter the country.

Instead, PHAC said decisions are up to individual officers.

“Before making a decision, a border services officer will review and consider each traveller’s unique circumstances, the purpose of the trip, and the documents presented at the time of entry,” spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau told Daily Hive.

“It is important to note that each traveller presents themselves to a border services officer under a different set of circumstances, with varying levels of information available. Each case is assessed based on its individual merits, and determinations are made on a case-by-case basis at the time of entry,” Jarbeau said. “CBSA officers use all of the information available to them when a traveller is seeking entry into Canada to determine which set of instructions apply to the traveller.”

She also noted that questions about a traveller’s quarantine plan, health status, or molecular test documentation would be referred to a PHAC quarantine officer.

According to the Canadian government’s website, a negative PCR test must contain all of the following information to grant a person entry into Canada:

  • Traveller name and date of birth
  • Name and civic address of laboratory or clinic that administered the test
  • Date test was conducted
  • Type of test conducted
  • Test results

Tests Daily Hive obtained from an Ontario hospital and BC testing centre show most of that.

Ontario UHN test results

This COVID-19 test result is from a free test administered within the University Health Network in Toronto. (Daily Hive)

BC test results

This BC COVID-19 test results, administered for free in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, contains all the information required for re-entry into Canada except for the clinic address. (Daily Hive)

A spokesperson for Quebec’s health ministry said its test results don’t contain the necessary information for cross-border travel. An enquiry to Alberta’s health ministry went unanswered.

CBSA would not tell Daily Hive whether the Ontario and BC results would allow someone to re-enter the country and instead referred questions to PHAC. The public health agency also would not give an answer.

Health ministry spokespeople from both Ontario and BC said travellers should use private paid tests intended for travel and should not be tested at sites intended for symptomatic individuals or known cases’ close contacts.

Travel tests are available for a fee in Canada, with prices ranging from $150 to more than $200. People travelling to the US can also get tested there, where many pharmacies also offer tests for a fee.

In addition, someone who gets tested because they have symptoms must self-isolate until test results come back. If that person were to cross the border while waiting for results, they could be charged under the Quarantine Act.

Megan DevlinMegan Devlin

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