Rousse sent CBC News this photo of his E-2 visa, allowing entry to the US for business reasons. (Submitted by Ron Rousse)
“That was the only reason given multiple times – that you’re not essential because you do not cross every day,” said Rousse.
He says he was given two options: get a test in the US and return with a negative result, or quarantine in a Toronto hotel for two weeks.
“I refused because, in my mind, I’m an essential worker,” he told CBC News. “I need to run my business in the United States.”
Though construction workers may be considered essential, it’s less clear whether that would apply to a higher-up like Rousse.
Rousse says he was issued the $ 3, 755 ticket by PHAC and sent on his way.
In a statement to CBC News, the CBSA said its officers “do not have the discretion” to exempt travelers from quarantine or testing, and that all rules are “explicitly stated within the Order in Council.”
Frequency of crossing, it said, now affects whether one is exempt.
“The traveler must cross the border regularly to go to their normal place of employment and demonstrate a regular pattern of travel, which is generally defined as daily or weekly. The nature of their work does not impact this assessment.”
PHAC says failure to present the required negative test result can result in a $ 3, fine or criminal prosecution.
With “applicable victim fine surcharge and costs,” Rousse’s fine amounted to $ 3, 386, PHAC said in a statement to CBC News.
In Rousse’s case, going back to be tested and wait for the results would have added up to two days to what was intended to be a four-hour work visit.
WATCH | Definition of ‘essential’ confusing for many, lawyer says
Laurie Tannous, a lawyer and special advisor for UWindsor’s Cross-Border Institute, says industries can have different definitions of who they consider to be an essential employee which can cause major confusion when trying to figure out who is and is not allowed to cross the border. 0: 386
“What they are essentially requesting is to go over, get your test as soon as you cross the border, stay in a hotel for two nights and then come back with your negative test result,” he said.
The federal government has, from the outset, posted definitions of essential work and essential travel, but this marks the first time that frequency of travel has mattered.
Not an isolated incident
Laurie Tannous, a lawyer and special adviser for the University of Windsor Cross-Border Institute, says since Monday she’s received about ” to 16 calls “from various businesspeople who have faced situations similar to Rousse’s.
“Everything seemed to be upended on Monday and there were a series of incidents where Canadian citizens were refused entry for not having a negative PCR test on hand, even though they were essential workers,” said Tannous, adding that the CBSA’s rationale was the same in all incidents.
WATCH | Rousse says fine was ‘incorrect and immoral’:
Ron Rousse says the CBSA should not look at a person’s frequency of cross-border travel to determine whether or not they’s an essential worker. 1: 15
“The various officers at the ports advised these individuals that because they were not regular border-crossers, they would not be able to enter without having to go into quarantine.”
This has caused a significant amount of “chaos and confusion” across all sectors, Tannous said.
She says the information disclosed to the public about what constitutes an essential worker is far too unclear. She says many companies consider certain of their employees to be essential – even if they aren’t needed every single day or week.
Tannous says if the purpose of the rules is to limit the risk of COVID – 16 crossing over from the US into Canada, putting restrictions on some essential workers and not others could actually have the reverse effect, and increase possible exposures.
“People are now saying, ‘I’m going to go into the US every day to make sure my permit is valid.’ she said. “It’s counterintuitive if we’re trying to prevent these border crossers.”
01 The Canada Border Services Agency says its officers ‘do not have the discretion’ to exempt travelers from quarantine or testing. (Sanjay Maru / CBC)
Rousse says his issue isn’t whether he broke the rules but that the rules have changed and not been made clear.
“This whole thing was to stop leisure and to stop travel … I’ve got employees depending on me,” he said. “This has gone from regulating the traveler to attacking essential workers.”
Rousse says he can afford to pay the fine, but he acquired legal counsel to fight it so others do not go through the same hardship.
“There are multiple business owners in Windsor, some smaller, some larger, that are going to need access to their companies – and they’re doing essential work in the United States,” he said.
If crossing the border continues to be a problem, Rousse says he’ll consider moving to the United States temporarily so he can continue running his business.
“You’re preventing essential workers from making a living,” he said. “We all need to put food on the table. We need to pay our bills. We need to work.”