Wrong turn on way to hockey game near N.B.-Maine border leads to 2 weeks of quarantine

Debra Blackmore was just trying to get her son to a hockey game on Sunday when her GPS led them straight to the U.S. border. 

Blackmore and three passengers were headed for St. Stephen, a small town in southwestern New Brunswick across the Saint Croix River from Maine, when they wound up at the border.

Not wanting to do anything illegal or suspicious by pulling a U-turn, they proceeded to the gate to explain their predicament. 

Blackmore thought they’d be allowed to turn around and be on their way.

Instead, because of federal rules about international travel during the pandemic, her inadvertent detour has led to two weeks of quarantine for all four of them. Travellers entering the country must quarantine for 14 days, even if they don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19.

For Blackmore, that could mean not seeing her eldest daughter or one-year-old grandson over Christmas. She also has to self-isolate from her 15-year-old daughter so that she can continue to go to school and other activities. 

“So I’m not going to be able to spend Christmas morning with her — even though we live in the same house,” said Blackmore.

“It’s just ridiculous. We’ve gone through so many emotions. Most of all, I cannot believe that this is happening.” 

Blackmore also had to shut down the daycare she operates for the quarantine period. 

She wonders if there isn’t a better way to deal with people who inadvertently end up at the border. After all, border officials told them they were the third rink-bound vehicle to end up there on Sunday. 

The car was searched and the U.S. border guards gave them a letter to give to their Canadian counterparts, stating that they didn’t intentionally enter the United States. 

But when the Canadian officials heard they had — because of the search — exited their vehicle and gone inside a building on U.S. soil, they were told they would have to quarantine. 

We were just doing what the border patrol told us to do.– Debra Blackmore

“We were just doing what the border patrol told us to do,” said Blackmore. “It didn’t even dawn upon us that quarantine would be an issue.”

And then it hit Blackmore and the other mother with whom she was travelling. 

“We looked at each other, and we were like, 14 days? That’s Christmas, and then both of us were like, do we cry? We were super emotional.”

Blackmore says they weren’t allowed to leave until they had a quarantine plan in place. They were instructed to drive straight home — no stops along the way — to begin their quarantine. 

Blackmore’s family had just finished another quarantine, related to a case at school. Her daycare had only been open for a week before she had to close again. 

And then there’s Christmas. 

Blackmore says her brother lives alone and always stays overnight on Christmas Eve with her family. Her daughter and grandson come on Christmas morning. 

“We don’t really have a lot of people,” Blackmore said. “It’s all we’ve got and to take that away from them is unnecessary.”  

Each inspection unique

Michael McCarthy, spokesperson for the northeast region for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, says there isn’t a single protocol to deal with lost motorists.

“Each inspection process will vary,” he said. 

In some cases, vehicles are turned around without the occupants having to exit. Others will be asked to leave their vehicle so that it can be searched. 

McCarthy said border officials respond to the “totality of the circumstances” and reserve the right to inspect a vehicle once it enters American territory. 

“It is incumbent upon drivers to pay attention to road markers,” said McCarthy. 

What happens with Canadian officials when vehicles return to Canadian soil isn’t something they consider in their interactions with travellers, said McCarthy. 

Canadian border guards told Debra Blackmore she had to quarantine for 14 days because she had exited her vehicle while on the U.S. side. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Although public health officials in New Brunswick are usually in charge of quarantine rules, because the vehicle technically entered the U.S., this case falls under the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), according to Bruce Macfarlane, spokesperson for the New Brunswick Department of Health.  

The PHAC has not responded to CBC’s request for information. 

Travellers who don’t show any signs of COVID-19 can, under some conditions, be granted exemptions from quarantine, according to Rebecca Purdy, spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency. 

CBSA officers use the information available to them at the time the traveller is seeking entry into Canada to determine which set of instructions (exempt or required to quarantine) are to be provided to the traveller,” Purdy said.

Blackmore is seeking an exemption. 

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