Ottawa admits some travelers were wrongly told to quarantine due to ArriveCAN app glitch

Ottawa says that due to a problem with the ArriveCAN entry app, some travelers who recently entered Canada have received erroneous notifications asking them to self-quarantine.

The admission comes at a time when the federal government is facing growing pressure from politicians and tourism groups to scrap the COVID-19 screening tool, arguing it is hampering tourism and creating headaches for some travellers.

The ArriveCAN app certainly caused problems for Don and Karin Bennett of Burlington, Ontario, after they returned to Canada on July 10 from a trip to Chicago.

Don Bennett said there was no problem at the land border as they completed the application diligently and were fully vaccinated which exempted them from quarantine.

However, six days later, Bennett said Karin discovered several emails in her ArriveCAN junk mailbox with quarantine instructions.

“She was confused,” he said. “It kind of came out of nowhere.”

Don and Karin Bennett of Burlington, Ont., say they received no quarantine orders upon returning to Canada from a trip to Chicago. However, six days later, Karin discovered several emails in her junk mailbox with quarantine instructions. (Submitted by Don Bennett)

Bennett said while he thought the issue was a problem, Karin decided to start her quarantine, fearing the possible fine for travelers who break the rules.

“There’s the threatening language of $5,000 fines, plus the potential dispatch of the police to your house,” he said.

But Bennett said his wife has now decided to end her quarantine, after hearing from CBC News that the government admitted to sending incorrect quarantine information.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) “has identified a technical issue with the app that … may produce an erroneous notification asking people to self-quarantine,” said Audrey Champoux, press secretary to the Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, in an email.

The issue appears to be related to Apple devices, and less than three percent of users have been affected, Champoux said, adding that the CBSA has identified a fix that will be fully implemented by the end of the week.

She said travelers should trust the instructions they receive at the border if they conflict with later notifications about a 14-day quarantine.

Time to delete the app?

The government’s admission followed a CBC News investigation highlighting there were dozens of complaints on social media from travelers who said they entered Canada without issue and then received a surprise alert about a mandatory quarantine.

Following his experience, Bennett said he thinks the ArriveCAN app should be taken down.

“If the government asks you to do something, make sure it works, because if it doesn’t, it’s a matter of trust.”

WATCH | Calls to end use of the ArriveCAN app:

Calls to end use of the ArriveCAN app

A Montreal couple sentenced to a 14-day quarantine are among Canadians frustrated with the continued use of the ArriveCAN app. Some politicians say it’s time to ditch the app because it creates hassles for travellers.

Canada has lifted most of its travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers. Even so, people entering the country still need to enter their travel and vaccination information on the ArriveCAN app.

Travelers who do not could face a 14-day quarantine and even a $5,000 fine.

Since the app was introduced in 2020, it has drawn complaints that it is cumbersome, has issues, and creates obstacles for those with technical difficulties.

Therefore, as travel begins its resurgence, many people with interests in the tourism industry are calling on the government to end the mandatory use of the app.

“Why do we need it?” said Beth Potter, President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

“Anything that complicates the travel process, travel right now has a negative impact on people returning to travel again.”

The federal government responds

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told CBC News that the pandemic is not over and that the ArriveCAN app is a necessary and effective tool to keep Canadians safe.

The app “improves processing times at the border because it reduces the time it takes for border services officers to interview travelers and manually enter their public health information,” said PHAC spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau, in an email.

However, the union representing CBSA officers argues the app can cause congestion, as officers have to spend time helping struggling travelers fill it out.

“[Some] people didn’t know there was an application, some people just have trouble filling it out. We’ve seen people who don’t have the technology to fill it out,” said Mark Weber, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union.

Blanche and Valerian Lewis of Mississauga, Ont., say they did not complete the ArriveCAN application when returning to Canada due to a technical issue. Three days later, she says, they received an email saying they were supposed to be in quarantine – even though the couple are fully vaccinated. (Radio Canada)

Blanche Lewis of Mississauga, Ont., said that before she and her husband, Valerian, returned home from a road trip to Michigan on July 10, she tried to fill out the application several times, but due a technical problem, it just didn’t work.

Lewis said a border agent let the couple go with only a warning and made no mention of a 14-day quarantine.

However, three days later they received an email saying they were supposed to be in quarantine.

Lewis said a PHAC law enforcement officer also confirmed over the phone that they had to self-isolate – even though the couple are fully vaccinated.

“It’s nothing but a nightmare for us,” Lewis said from her home, where she and her husband are now in quarantine. “We are being punished for something that was… out of control.”

It is unclear whether the Lewises were affected by the ArriveCAN app message issue, as PHAC declined to comment on their case.