Coutts border crossing clogged up by travellers following lifting of COVID tests

Traffic was moving at a much more steady pace through the Coutts border crossing Saturday, after a slow and frustrating commute for travellers the day before.

Re-entry COVID-19 testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers were lifted on Friday and that led to hours-long lineups.

According to immigration lawyer Mark Holthe, the usual wait times at Coutts border are usually around one to two hours around this time of year due to snowbirds returning from the south.

This time, wait times ranged from four to seven hours.

Read more: Vaccinated travellers no longer need pre-entry COVID-19 tests to enter Canada

Wendy and Wayne Mikkelsen had planned to come back to Canada on April1, well before hearing the announcement from the federal government two weeks ago.

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They stuck to their plan and booked their campsite in Shelby, Montana, but quickly realized they were not alone in their decision.

“When we got there, the hotel was full, the campground was sold out,” said Wayne.

It was at that moment that they said to themselves, “Oh, this is going to be a problem.”

They considered rerouting through the Del Bonita crossing, but they couldn’t make the change because they had registered Coutts as their point of entry into Canada on the ArriveCan app.

It took the couple four hours and 15 minutes to get across.

“It was a brutal experience for everybody,” said Wayne.

They said officers at the border were pleasant and were getting people through as quickly as possible.

It was a different story for Holthe, who was also in the long lineups on Friday.

He was driving his elderly mother into Canada and quickly realized it was going to be a long wait when he was stopped next to a road sign that said they were about five kilometres to the border.

Around 1 p.m., a man drove his electric bike to the border and reported back to Holthe, saying there was only one lane open.

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Read more: Testing positive weeks after a COVID-19 diagnosis: What it means for travel

“It’s just a horrible mismanagement of the situation,” said Holthe.

Some families who were stuck in line had to walk more than a kilometre to use washroom facilities.

Out of necessity and after six hours of inching towards the border with no break, Holthe drove over the median to the other side of the highway to a bathroom at the US border office.

Luckily, they were let back in line.

In total, it took them seven hours to drive five kilometres.

Holthe is an executive officer with the National Canadian Bar Association immigration section and has been in meetings with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) over the last two years.

Read more: Air Canada plans to double capacity this year as travel demand returns

He said the border agents were doing their job, but this experience has brought a lack of preparedness from the CBSA to light.

“I had unbelievable respect and patience and appreciation for what they were going through,” said Holthe. “But as the rest of the private world got their act together and sorted things out and figured out ways to get things done, I started to get a little bit frustrated with not just the CBSA nut with the IRCC.

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“They have officers there, it’s not that they don’t exist.”

CBSA issued a statement to Global News about the long lineups that read:

“Travellers may experience delays at ports of entry due to the public health measures as the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians for the sake of border wait times.

Travellers can help speed up processing times by coming prepared – have their passport, ArriveCAN receipt and proof of vaccination ready. The CBSA thanks travellers for their collaboration and patience. Travellers can check CBSA’s website for estimated border wait times at select land ports of entry.

The CBSA continuously monitors traveller volumes and wait times to allocate resources and adjust staffing levels during peak travel periods to minimize processing times and unnecessary delays at our ports of entry.

Before heading to the border or the airport, travellers should get informed and understand their obligations by ensuring their eligibility to enter Canada (Find out if you can enter Canada) and following the Checklists for requirements and exemptions.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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