Border officials in both Canada and the U.S. are catching people they suspect of trying to cheat vaccine rules to cross the border by the hundreds — but far fewer are seeing fines.
Although hundreds of allegedly fake and misused vaccine cards and COVID-19 tests have been reported by Canada border officials, the Public Health Agency of Canada has only issued 17 fines related to these reports so far.
In the U.S., a woman who was caught by American border guards using her sister’s passport and proof of COVID-19 vaccination was able to enter the country anyways and hasn’t been charged, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The woman, a U.S. citizen who was crossing into the country from B.C., was found last month to be using a passport that didn’t match her face by border agents using facial biometric technology in Blaine, Wash. She then admitted to border officials that she was using her sister’s documents because she was not vaccinated.
West Pryde, a criminal lawyer with B.C.’s Filkow Law, said using forged or false documents when trying to cross the border is a serious offence with extreme penalties.
“There’s a number of obligations at the border and, really, you have to tell the truth,” Pryde said. “It’s pretty foolish to try and trick your way into a country and you’re committing a criminal offence on top of it. There’s a lot of reasons not to do that.”
Those reasons include possible jail time, fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and bans on travel, he said.
It would also likely result in being flagged by border security and, in the case of using someone else’s documentation, them being flagged as well.
“As soon as you try to lie your way into the country you’re going to be put on a list,” Pryde said.
In response to the incident, Canada’s border officials said people using fake or fraudulent vaccine certification documents can expect to see fines and even jail time if they use them to try to get into Canada. But, according to numbers from the Canada Border Services Agency, only 17 of more than 300 people alleged to have been caught doing this have been fined so far.
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Although the woman was let into the U.S. and not charged for misuse of her sister’s passport, the passport was seized, a U.S. border representative told the Star.
Under travel restrictions, U.S. citizens are not required to have proof of vaccination to enter the U.S. when crossing land borders, but foreign nationals are. It is illegal to travel using another person’s passport in both the U.S. and Canada.
American officials have not released the name of the woman.
Details emerging around the incident, which took place Nov. 26, are shining a light on efforts to enforce vaccine requirements and travel restrictions during the third winter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Oct. 31, the Canadian border agency had intercepted 374 suspected falsified or fraudulent COVID-19 test results, and 92 suspected falsified or fraudulent vaccine certification credentials. The border agency referred all the individuals involved to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which has the authority to enforce the Quarantine Act.
“A person who submits false information on vaccination status could be liable to a fine of up to $750,000 or six months imprisonment or both under the Quarantine Act, or prosecution under the Criminal Code for forgery,” Louis-Carl Brissette Lesage, spokesperson for the border agency, wrote in an email.
“A person who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while wilfully or recklessly contravening this act or the regulations could be liable for a fine of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment of up to three years or both.”
So far, only 17 of the people suspected of using falsified tests or vaccine certifications have been fined by Public Health Agency. A spokesperson for the agency said some cases are still under investigation, but it doesn’t keep a tally of how many. Any criminal charges laid by police services are also not tallied by the agency.
An auditor general’s report released Thursday said the Public Health Agency of Canada made some improvements in its enforcement of border control measures since the beginning of the pandemic, but highlighted gaps in the agency’s enforcement of mandatory hotel quarantine and testing.
Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen
Jeremy Nuttall is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports
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