BOW VALLEY – As rumours about "loopholes" for American visitors to the valley circulate on social media, local RCMP want to remind residents of how diverse the valley really is.
"We received one complaint over the weekend and our officers did find some [licence] plates from the United States, but upon investigating we found the person was lawfully here and not subject to quarantine – they were a Parks resident," said Banff RCMP Staff Sgt. Michael Buxton-Carr.
"We are still gathering information. I really don't know if we have a widespread issue, or if these are some isolated events that are getting widespread attention."
Last week a social media post from someone who said they were sharing an anecdote from a friend, went viral as the individual alleged there were Americans in the Bow Valley who discovered a "loophole" when driving to Canada for non-essential travel – simply tell border patrol they were driving to Alaska.
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According to the Canadian Border Services Agency website, all travel for discretionary/non-essential reasons such as tourism, recreation or entertainment is currently prohibited
"Travellers who do not have a non-discretionary (essential) reason to travel to Canada, will be denied entry by a border services officer," the government website states.
"Foreign nationals who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 are not permitted to enter Canada, regardless of their reason for travel."
In order to gain access to Canada from the United States, travellers must prove they are travelling for non-discretionary/essential purposes and are not presenting signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
But RCMP wanted to remind residents that the valley is home to people from all over the world.
"There are second homeowners/vacationers in our community that are in fact American. We have seen them in the community, before and during the pandemic, having chosen to remain here. Prior to the news last week regarding this occurrence in Banff, I have not found any reported concerns," Cpl. Sabrina Clayton with the Canmore RCMP wrote in a statement.
Canmore RCMP officers said they did receive reports of U.S. licence plates on vehicles parked in downtown Canmore over the weekend, but the vehicles were unoccupied. There have been no charges in Canmore to date.
Banff RCMP said if there are concerns of people violating quarantine to get in touch with Alberta Health Services and local RCMP.
"We will follow up [on any reports] and our priority is education ... if you think something needs to be addressed in real-time, contact the police," Buxton-Carr said.
"We are not hunting for U.S. licence plates – we know there are people in the country who were here before the pandemic hit and there are some people who have already completed their quarantine."
Canmore RCMP shared the same message.
"[Out-of-country licence plates] can be reported to RCMP if they believe there is a violation of the Quarantine Act or Public Health Order. RCMP will conduct a follow up to determine if any offences are being committed," Clayton wrote.
Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was also questioned about the Facebook post during a press conference where she said there is no information to indicate there is a significant number of people crossing the border.
I encourage Albertans to continue to get tested. Testing broadly for #COVID19AB helps us understand where we have cases and if we need to take additional measures in an area, or make changes to our relaunch strategy. https://t.co/K0bbk3vcF7— Dr. Deena Hinshaw (@CMOH_Alberta) June 16, 2020
"I have seen media reports of at least one case where that happened. We do know it is possible for people driving to their home in Alaska to cross the U.S. border ... I have been in contact with Canadian public health agency and through them the Canadian Border Service agency with respect to making sure that when people do cross on the way to Alaska, they are very clear on the requirements," Hinshaw said.
Alberta recently kicked off Stage Two of the province's economic relaunch strategy allowing some businesses including retail, farmers markets, hairstyling, cafés, restaurants and pubs – to name a few – to reopen with the new public health guidelines in place, such as practicing physical distancing abd keeping two metres apart from people outside your household.
Officials are reminding everyone to stay vigilant – as the Bow Valley has managed to keep numbers low with no active or newly reported cases within the last week – and to keep up good hygiene practices.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced the Canada-U.S. border will stay closed for non-essential travel until July 21.
Go to Alberta.ca for more information on up-to-date guidelines.