What you need to know about Canada’s divisive ArriveCAN app

Ottawa plans to expand the capabilities of its ArriveCAN app, even as criticism continues to mount over the mandatory online data entry system for travelers entering the country.

Earlier this week, Transport Canada provided an update on its plans to improve the app, including adding an optional online CBSA reporting feature for people traveling to Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Billy Bishop Toronto City, Ottawa, Québec City and Halifax go. international airports.

The feature, which reduces by a third the amount of time travelers spend at a Canada Border Services Agency kiosk, according to Transport Canada, is currently only available to those passing through Toronto Pearson, Vancouver or Montreal-Trudeau international airports.

“With the thousands of travelers arriving at Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal airports every day, using the optional CBSA declaration has the potential to save hours of waiting time,” said Transport Canada’s release.

With Ottawa indicating no plans to do away with the app, here’s a refresher on how it works, why it’s in place — and who’s for and against its continued use.

Why was it posted?

Although the app was introduced earlier in the pandemic, the version of ArriveCAN that people know today, launched in July 2021, as Canada began easing public health restrictions on people entering Canada. Fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents crossing the border were no longer required to go into quarantine upon their return.

But Canada still wanted a way to account for people’s vaccination statuses and the COVID-19 results of a recent test. The app allowed travelers to take a photo or upload a snapshot of their vaccine documentation to the app before going through customs.

How does it work today?

Canada has lifted most of its travel restrictions on fully vaccinated travelers, including the need for domestic travelers to show proof of vaccination when traveling by train or plane.

But regardless of vaccination status, all travelers entering Canada are required to submit their information to the ArriveCAN app — or the website version if they don’t have a smartphone — up to 72 hours before entering Canada.

When travelers are done entering their information, they will receive an email receipt to show to a Canadian border officer upon arrival, along with their COVID-19 test results and any vaccination documents.

The app has not been without its problems. Last month, Public Safety Canada acknowledged that an outage had incorrectly informed some travelers to go into quarantine when, in fact, they didn’t need to.

What are the possible sanctions for non-compliance?

Travelers who fail to provide the required information will not be denied entry, but may face a 14-day quarantine, the need to take a COVID-19 test on arrival and a follow-up test eight days later.

They could also be fined $5,000 and face “additional delays at the border for public health questions,” according to ArriveCAN’s main information page in Canada.

In someone who is exempt from using ArriveCAN?

Yes, including people who cannot access the app or website due to cognitive or physical limitations.

Instead, they can provide the information verbally at the border or by filling out a paper form.

The exemption also applies to people who cannot fill in the data online due to a natural disaster, censorship, no internet access or an ArriveCAN outage.

There is also a certain leeway for some people at land border crossings.

Beginning May 24, “to allow for greater flexibility,” the Canada Border Services Agency began omitting fully vaccinated Canadian land travelers with a warning the first time they failed to complete the app if they had no history of non-compliance.

The union representing frontier workers told CBC News last month that between 30 and 40 percent of travelers entering Canada in Windsor, Ontario, did not fill out the app before arriving.

Who’s against it?

Mayors of border towns have said the app is a barrier to tourists trying to enter Canada and to trade.

Other politicians, including Canada’s Conservative Party leadership candidates Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre, Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison, have called for the app to be scrapped, as it causes headaches for some travelers and contributes to airport delays.

In a tweet last month, Poilievre called on Canada to “stop forcing ArriveCAN on people” and “restore sanity at our airports”. The tweet contained video, which CBC News has not verified, of an elderly person without a cell phone calling the app “bureaucracy run amok” while at a Toronto airport.

Lewis recently called the app a “surveillance experiment” that should be ended.

Who wants the app to stay?

New Democrats transportation critic MP Taylor Bachrach said ArriveCAN continues to play “an important role” in screening international arrivals for new variants and verifying that visitors to Canada are fully vaccinated to protect the country’s health care system.

“But the government needs to ensure that the app works as intended so that waiting times at airports and border crossings can be reduced as promised,” Bachrach said in a statement.

The government should also better address people who cannot use the online app for accessibility reasons, he added.

“It is totally inappropriate for customs officials to act as IT technicians in solving travellers’ technological challenges,” he said.

Green Party MP Elizabeth May said she found the app useful and easy to use during her travels.

“The recent glitch, on the other hand, highlights a serious privacy violation problem,” she said in a statement.

What does the government have to say about that?

In its publication earlier this week, Transport Canada said it has hired 1,600 security checkers from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority across Canada since April, while 30 new customs inspection kiosks were recently added at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

In a statement to CBC News, the CBSA said 99.53 percent of air travelers used ArrivedCAN in the week ending July 17, according to the most recently available data.

Millions of people have used the app without any problems, the spokesperson said.

“Without ArriveCAN, processing times for travelers would increase significantly as these public health functions would have to be manually completed for each traveler by CBSA officials at the port of entry.”

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