Published:June 12, 2021
Jen thought it would be a breezy five-hour drive from Montana back to Alberta last Saturday.
She could not have been more wrong. Instead, it was what she called “one gong show after another.” Her name has been changed and the name of her hometown and small manufacturing business withheld.
After what she went through, she wants no cause for further hassle at the border. What she experienced, and shared in an interview with the Western Standard, is not something she wants to happen again.
SIX MINUTES BECAME TWO DAYS
When Jen pulled up to the border crossing at Sweet Grass, Montana just days ago, she didn’t expect any problems. She had taken the border crossing, 100 km southwest of Lethbridge, a few times before without incident.
“I’m a trucker and I can bring my product back across the border. An import number and licence gives me the ability to do that as often as I need without having to have the testing done and the quarantine,” Jen said.
The process normally takes six minutes, but not this time. When the border guard found out the Canadian woman had been in Montana for ten days, she decided that was too long, and declared her a non-essential traveller.
“I asked her what the time limit is so I know for next time, and she said, ‘Well there really isn’t one.’ …That was at her discretion.”
The border agent sent her to the nurse. Jen had not done a COVID-19 test within the previous 72 hours because essential travellers do not need to do so. Having been arbitrarily denied that status, she now had three choices.
“One option was to go back to the United States and get a COVID test and wait and then re-enter. My second option was to do the quarantine hotel. And my third option was to claim non-compliance, in which case they would come to my home and give me a $5,000 to $10,000 fine. So I chose the hotel.”
Jen recalled how the nurse laughed and said: “’This is so ridiculous. I can’t believe I have to make you do this, but I do.’
So she gave me a little square of paper and it said, ‘Go directly to the airport.’ The address was on it for the airport in Calgary, drive to Gate 17…Do not exit your vehicle. Phone this number, someone will come. They’re waiting for you. And they will escort you to the quarantine hotel.”
Because the drive was three and-a-half hours, Jen was given four hours to get there. Any later than that, and she would have faced penalties for non-compliance. She made it in time, but five attempts at the phone number gave the same message: ‘This number is not in service.’ Was it because she had an American phone?
At some risk of defying the rules, she walked out of the car and into the airport where she found 10 police officers assembled. She explained her problem and they phoned on her behalf. The number worked for them, and it was the Red Cross. They told her to return to her vehicle and someone would pick her up.
Fifteen minutes later, a man in a large black van rolled up and asked for her name.
“Then he said, ‘Follow me.’ You know, my mama taught me not to follow strangers in a van, but whatever. So I followed this gentleman. We pull up at a hotel. Now this is very odd. There was no markings on this hotel whatsoever.
“This is now 11:30 at night in a rainstorm. There’s three men dressed in full PPE. They had a mask, they had goggles, they had a shield, they had rubber gloves, they had booties on their shoes, and they had a white gown. And I get out of my car, and they say, ‘Get whatever you need out of your car put on this cart because you will not be allowed out of your room after this point.’”
The hotel looked like a work in progress.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a project that is they’re going to be sanding or something and so they mask everything off and there’s plastic everywhere. And that’s what the hotel was like. You go in a back door escorted by two men, and it’s a very sci-fi movie – sneaky, everything’s sneaky, sneaky … I couldn’t have found my way out of that hotel if I would have tried because it’s like a haunted house. Everything masked off and broken.”
A Red Cross employee got an item from the front desk, took her to her room and put the item on the metal doorframe of the door. When she asked what it was, he claimed it was a colour-coded item that clarified the age category in each room.
“I said, ‘That one’s green. What category is green?’
“‘Oh, middle aged.’
“I said, ‘How old am I?’
“‘Well, I don’t know that.’
“That doesn’t make any sense. Like what’s that? Clearly your b.s.’ing me to death.”
She took a picture of it and sent it to her son who is a sheriff.
“He says, ‘Oh, that’s a sensor so that when you open the door, it’s sending somebody a signal that you’ve opened your door.’”
She made a phone call of her own for a COVID-19 test. The company would only serve her if she named the hotel she was at. “You got to choose your meals for the next day on the menu and really tiny print is the name of the hotel.” Having told them, a COVID-19 test was scheduled for 4 p.m. the following day.
Door sensor or not, Jen said she got calls every 45 minutes to confirm that she was still in her room.
“They don’t even put like latches on windows. The windows don’t open. No getting out of there.”
Although staff got close enough to take her temperature, they wouldn’t come in the room.
“When they bring you your food, it’s in a brown paper bag and they just set it on a plastic bucket outside this green tape square and bang on your door. And then they leave and then you can come out and get your food.”
Jen had bad experiences with nasal swabs in the past, saying she “sounded like I had snorted fiberglass.” When someone arrived to do her test on Sunday, she chose the throat swab instead. During the interview on Tuesday, her throat was still sore.
“My throat is, it’s like cut. And I’m gargling with salt water. I don’t know what are on those swabs, but there’s something horrible on them.”
COVID NEGATIVE AND STILL CAPTIVE
Sunday night turned to Monday morning.
“I have all my test results back the next morning at 7 a.m. Now you’d think you would be able to go, right? My tests are negative? No, you can’t go. So when you get your tests, you phone this Red Cross number. So I phone the Red Cross number I start phoning at eight o’clock. No answer. Leave messages. But all circuits are busy. I must have phoned 15 to 20 times.”
Jen had had enough.
I thought I’m going to cause a nuisance until they let me out of here. So I just went out in the hallway. The guard stood up and he came at me and he said, ‘Get in here. Return to your room immediately.’
“I said ‘No, I will not actually. My test results come back and I need to leave now.’”
The guard tried to phone the Red Cross.
“So this went on three times. I had to go out in the hallway three times and upset the guard. Finally someone from the Red Cross phoned me. She said, ‘Listen, the quarantine officer who has to sign off to let you out is at the airport. And she’s busy because three airplanes full of people have just come in internationally and she needs to deal with all of them. So it could be up to 48 hours before she can get here.’”
The idea of a detention until Wednesday for a Saturday trip did not sit well with her.
“I got a little upset and caused some grief and this made a nuisance of myself because I thought that’s how I’m gonna get out of here. And so I’m about four hours after that someone knocks on my door and I don’t know who it is. They say we’re so and so with the Red Cross. The quarantine officer can’t leave the airport. So she sent us to just get a picture of your results to text to her.”
After two hours pass, Jen created another hassle and called again. Someone knocked on her door with signed discharge papers and orders to self-isolate for 14 days.
“Doesn’t say anything about taking any more tests. And it says, ‘To remain from getting bored, we suggest getting your neighbor or friend to bring you sidewalk chalk so that you can doodle on your sidewalk inside of your property or make an obstacle course in your backyard.’”
Monday night at home gave way to Tuesday morning.
“I get a phone call this morning at 7:30, which I don’t answer because it comes up on my phone as spam. And the message says, ‘This is the Alberta Health District whatever, blah, blah, blah. You are required to answer our phone calls and you are required to take a test on day eight.’
“Well you didn’t give me a test. You gave me a discharge paper with nothing in it except making an obstacle course in my backyard!”