Vermont Librarian Helping People Turned Back at Border Due to ArriveCan Says She’s ‘Overwhelmed’

Vermont Librarian Helping People Turned Back at Border Due to ArriveCan Says She’s ‘Overwhelmed’
A person holds a smartphone showing the ArriveCan app, which requires people to upload their COVID-19 vaccination status to be able to enter Canada. (Giordano Ciampini/The Canadian Press)
Noé Chartier

A library director in a Vermont town near the border has been going the extra mile to help people crossing into Canada who run into problems with the ArriveCan app.

“This situation is out of hand for me, as all I do all day is help people turned around by CBSA,” said Sharon Ellingwood White, referring to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Ellingwood White is the director of the Alice M. Ward Memorial Library in the town of Canaan, located close to the Canada-U.S. border near three crossings into the Eastern Townships of Quebec: Stanhope, East Hereford, and Hereford Road.

She told The Epoch Times she helps an average of five people a day who are refused entry due to ArriveCan-related issues, but it can be as many as 15 a day.

“People are sent back to the States to figure it out, and many wind up here at the library because we offer free and extensive Wi-Fi. We are one of the only pieces of infrastructure in this tiny little town to offer such a thing,” she said.

She says there is no Wi-Fi access or cell signal at the three border crossings. But even if there was it wouldn’t help in some cases, since some of the seniors she deals with do not own cellphones or have email addresses, both of which are needed to fill out ArriveCan.

Ellingwood White says “word has gotten around” that she’s been assisting people at the library.

“And now I am getting people turned around at three ports of entry to this little tiny library, and my position is funded 25 hours a week. Some days, I spend half of my day helping people turned around at customs, mostly Americans.”

She says many residents of Canaan were born in Quebec and have family there, with even 25 percent speaking French in the home. Some cross the border to visit family members while others cross over to access businesses.

Ellingwood White said she has also helped Canadians who are turned back at the border for failure to have completed the ArriveCan app, but notes that now most of the time they mainly come to the library to access the Wi-Fi themselves.
The Alice M. Ward Memorial Library in the town of Canaan, Vermont. (Courtesy of Sharon Ellingwood White)
The Alice M. Ward Memorial Library in the town of Canaan, Vermont. (Courtesy of Sharon Ellingwood White)

Concern for the Elderly

One of Ellingwood White’s main concerns is for the elderly who oftentimes travel from far away and are then denied entry into Canada.

“Elderly people with no cellphones who have driven to my little town from four or five hours away are being turned back to the United States to figure out their app,” she said.

“They turned away an 81-year-old person, hours from their home, trying to go to Montreal, where they lived for many years of their life, and turn this elderly individual away to strangers in a strange town.”

The woman was quite anxious and in tears, but Ellingwood White says she calmed her down and helped her fill out the form.

“But if I wasn’t there, she would have been driving home for five hours in quite an upset state. It doesn’t seem kind to me, it doesn’t seem reasonable.”

She believes there should be “equity” in the policy given that many elderly people are at a disadvantage technologically.

“I don’t know how the elderly can even begin to approach this policy.”

The library director is not charging for her help and says she has to work extra hours to make up for the time she spends assisting people. If there’s a need to create a new email account, it can take around 40 minutes just to help that one person.

The Epoch Times reached out to CBSA for comment on this story but didn’t get a response by publication time.

Completion Rate

In a testimony before the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade on June 15, CBSA vice-president Denis Vinette said that the successful traveller usage rate of ArriveCan as of May 2 was over 99 percent for the air mode and 94 percent for the land mode.

“The use of ArriveCan, which is mandatory, expedites processing and helps protect the health and safety of travellers and our own CBSA employees,” he said.

He was contradicted, however, by the president of the union representing Canada’s border agents, who called Vinette’s figures “absolutely false.”

Mark Weber said these numbers don’t reflect the fact that CBSA agents are helping travellers use ArriveCan. He put the rate of completion closer 75 to 80 percent, and for areas like the Eastern Townships, closer to 60 percent.

“To complete [the app], essentially our officers now largely work as IT consultants—you have land borders that have essentially become parking lots for us to help people complete the app,” he said.

The federal government has made the use of ArriveCan mandatory for all incoming travellers, who must fill in their travel information and personal health details, including vaccination status. Unvaccinated travellers must outline their 14-day quarantine plan.

The Pubic Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is responsible for ArriveCan, along with the CBSA. Its quarantine officers have been handing out $5,000 fines for non-compliance.

CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy told The Epoch Times in a previous statement that ArriveCan helps “inform public health advice and is an integral part of Canada’s monitoring program for new variants of concern that could pose a threat to the health and safety of Canadians.”

She also said it “helps to facilitate entry on arrival at the border and minimize delays.”

Ellingwood White, meanwhile, says she’s struggling to cope with the extra work that has come her way due to the app.

“I’m quite overwhelmed with the traffic,” she says. “And the answer I’m getting is, well, we’re going to put Wi-Fi in at that port, and we’re going to get cell service at that port. And then I counter and say, that is not going to help elderly travellers who are vulnerable.”

“It seems quite unnecessary when this elderly person is holding the required documentation needed in hand physically to enter your country,” she adds.

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