CBSA’s Role at the Border during COVID-19

Date: March 10, 2021
Classification: Unclassified
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: TB/CBSA

Proposed response:


Border Services Officers (BSOs) facilitate the legitimate trade and travel across Canada’s border and keep Canadians safe by stopping illicit weapons, drugs and inadmissible people from coming into Canada. In the performance of their duties, BSOs administer and enforce over 90 acts of Parliament, including the Customs Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Criminal Code and the Quarantine Act.

In the context of the pandemic, CBSA officers at the port of entry are designated screening officers under the Quarantine Act. In this role, they perform health screening on all international travellers by assessing every traveller’s health status through visual inspection for symptoms, as well as a series of health screening questions as requested by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Travellers who appear ill, or answer “yes” to any of the screening questions, are referred to PHAC officers for further assessment.

In addition, CBSA officers ensure that travellers have submitted necessary contact information and if required, a quarantine plan prior to entering, or upon entry to, Canada. Depending on their purpose of travel and intended length of stay, foreign nationals who are not able to quarantine for 14 days are prohibited from entry to Canada. Those who enter by right, such as Canadian citizens, permanent residents and persons registered under the Indian Act, are referred to PHAC for further assessment.

Since January 7, 2021, CBSA officers have also been responsible for ensuring that travellers who are required to submit evidence of a valid pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test do so upon arrival. Travellers who do not have a valid molecular test are referred to PHAC.

Foreign nationals who arrive by land and who are not in possession of valid COVID-19 test results are refused entry and directed back to the United States by a CBSA officer.

BSOs must also determine a traveller’s quarantine exemption status. Travellers who are exempt from quarantine, either through a provision of the Order in Council or a Chief Public Health Officer designation, are permitted to proceed into Canada unless other concerns are identified.

Travellers who arrive by air and who are not quarantine-exempt must have arrangements for a three-night prepaid government approved accommodation (GAA) stop-over at their first point of arrival. BSOs ensure that travellers have evidence of such booking and refer all non-exempt travellers with or without arrangements, to PHAC. PHAC is responsible for arranging on-arrival testing at the airport, arranging transportation to a GAA, and providing test kits and instructions for travellers to self-test on day 10 of their 14 day quarantine.

At most land ports of entry, travellers are given test kits to self-administer a specimen collection. This test kit is given upon arrival at their place of quarantine and on day 10 of their 14-day quarantine period.

At land ports of entry where PHAC conducts on-site COVID-19 testing, the CBSA officers direct travellers to the test site upon completion of all customs and immigration processes.

In cases of non-compliance, CBSA officers make appropriate referrals to PHAC in accordance with established standard operating procedures.

Once a traveller is admitted into Canada, the responsibility to monitor individuals from a public health perspective falls within the mandate of PHAC and provincial or territorial health authorities.

It is important to note that the CBSA officers are not designated peace officers under the Quarantine Act. As such, they do not issue fines in the enforcement of the Quarantine Act requirements. The decision on whether to pursue any enforcement action related to the public health orders for border-related rests with PHAC. Peace officer assistance in such matters is provided by police forces of jurisdiction in the location where contraventions occur.


Approved by: Denis Vinette, Vice-President, Travellers Branch

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