Scrap the app: Border MPs and mayors urge Ottawa to axe ArriveCAN at land crossings, saying it threatens recovery

OTTAWA—Mayors and MPs along the Canada-U.S. border are urging the federal government to scrap the use of the ArriveCAN app at land crossings, panning the tool as unnecessary, inaccessible and harmful to economic recovery in border communities.

All travellers entering Canada by land, air or boat are required to use the app, with limited exceptions. People must input their trip information, vaccine status — and, if unvaccinated, a suitable quarantine plan — within 72 hours of crossing into the country.

But politicians say they’re getting an earful from people who don’t own smartphones, those who have been turned away from the border for failing to properly fill out the app, and constituents and American tourists who were unaware ArriveCAN even existed.

In some cases, that’s contributed to hours-long delays for drivers attempting to return to the country, MPs and mayors say, and is deterring travel at a time when communities are banking on summer tourism for a much-needed injection of cash.

“Niagara Falls is the number one leisure tourism destination in all of Canada,” Conservative MP Tony Baldinelli, who represents the region, told the Star. “ We’ve lost two tourism years … We need to save the 2022 tourism season and ArriveCAN is threatening to deny that ability for us to recover.”

There are four border crossings in Baldinelli’s riding, including the Rainbow International Bridge, which the MP said posted two-and-a-half-hour wait times over the Memorial Day weekend in May. The timing is worrisome, he said, because Niagara generates 75 per cent of its income during the summer months.

“What we need to be doing is ensuring that our tourism community is … put in a position to do what they do best, and that’s welcome people from throughout the world. ArriveCAN is a disincentive and an impediment to facilitating cross-border traffic,” he said.

NDP MP Richard Cannings, who has six border crossings within his B.C. riding, said he’s also heard from seniors who don’t have phones or are unfamiliar with apps, and have encountered trouble when trying to cross.

“We are asking for a real plan that makes sense for Canadians and for travellers so that our border towns … can get their businesses going again in a safe way,” he told reporters Wednesday morning.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra addressed criticisms of the app on Tuesday, when Ottawa moved to suspend vaccine mandates for federal workers and plane and train passengers in Canada. ArriveCAN has also been flagged by air travel groups as contributing to holdups in major airports across the country.

“We are working with the (Canada Border Services Agency), with the Public Health Agency of Canada to ensure that we increase awareness about ArriveCAN, that we increase compliance with ArriveCAN, that we reduce the number of questions that are asked to streamline,” Alghabra said.

“We’re working on efficiencies to ensure that ArriveCAN is less of a source of complaint; however, it continues to be a meaningful tool to verify the vaccination status of travellers who are arriving into our borders.”

People with specific accessibility needs are exempt from using the app, and those without smartphones are advised to fill out the necessary forms using the desktop version of the app.

The science and epidemiological situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic now suggests there is little need to keep the app running, says Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati.

Diodati took aim at Ottawa for allocating $25 million in its federal budget over 2022-2023 to maintain ArriveCAN.

“Please take that money and give it to us to help us market the reopening of the border,” he said.

“Because what’s happening right now? Americans are showing up in their minivan with their family at the border. No knowledge of the ArriveCAN app. They don’t have roaming. They can’t download the app. There’s a lot of lineups of cars behind them. They can’t get into the country.”

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has said compliance with the app is more than 90 per cent and that it makes trips “more efficient.”

But the federal government’s focus on addressing travel woes plaguing air travel signals Ottawa is leaving border towns behind, says Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.

“Through the 22 months of the border issues, we stood with the federal government. We met regularly by Zoom with them. And now we’re just on the back burner,” he said. “It’s like a boa constrictor on our communities … and now we can’t even get them to respond to the needs that we have.”

He said the situation facing tourism-dependent border communities as travel rules come and go amounted to a “Monty Python skit.”

“Have they actually looked at the results of what the benefits (of the app) are?” Bradley asked.

“I’ve been in politics a long time, and when you’re riding a dead horse, dismount. That’s what the federal government needs to do.”

RP

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

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