COVID border crossing

Driving from America to Canada during the pandemic.

Trying to decode pages of government protocols. Pacing a suburban backyard like a caged animal. Being nervous driving with Michigan license plates in Ontario. Crossing a nearly deserted Bluewater bridge. Emerging joyfully from a basement apartment after enduring a 14-day quarantine. These are some of my experiences as an expat trying to conscientiously navigate the rules for returning home to Canada during the pandemic.

Quarantine

Our first visit travelling from Michigan to Ontario was during the summer of 2020 to attend our son’s wedding. In the spring of 2020, the very possibility of travel to Canada seemed uncertain. So I suggested that my son and future daughter-in-law hold their wedding on the border in the middle of the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. Despite the excellent wedding photos this perch would offer, this idea didn’t gain much traction. Instead, we were able to quarantine in a friend’s basement apartment in Hamilton for two weeks prior to a scaled-down wedding. For 14 days we paced the small boundary of the backyard – one that was tantalizingly close to the Bruce trail, which appeared like forbidden fruit just over a fence line.

Our next visit to Canada was early in December of 2020. The miracle of modern internet communications became our umbilical cord to the outside world as we hibernated for another 14 days in a basement apartment near Peterborough, Ontario. The internet allowed me to continue teaching my classes at Calvin University and to conduct online exams remotely. (I speculated in a prior column that these were the first Calvin classes taught from Canada; however, a letter from CC Reader Anne De Rooy recounted an earlier time when her son, Leonard, also taught Calvin classes from Canada!)

Self-conscious travelers

All our border crossings were uneventful, but it was eerie to cross the normally bustling Bluewater Bridge to Sarnia and to arrive at a lone security booth with no line ups. It was also the first time I was nervous driving in Ontario with Michigan license plates. A sketch from CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes depicted a trio of happy, friendly Canadians strolling six feet apart singing “It’s a beautiful day in Canada” when they suddenly stop in their tracks at the sight of car with American plates. Their demeanor changes instantly as they menacingly approach the hapless car owner who pleads to no avail that he has quarantined and followed protocol. This sketch was funny, but sadly CBC news reported real events of vandalism and harassment of drivers with American plates from fellow Canadians. We did not experience any hostility while driving in Canada, but I sensed our plates did raise some eyebrows.

New rules once again

The anticipation of new border crossing protocols was a keen topic of conversation at a July 1st Canada Day gathering of Canadians hosted in our backyard this year. On July 5, 2021, the rigid border restrictions gave way to a new set of rules that removed the need to quarantine for fully-vaccinated Canadians. Soon after that, my wife and I left for a short visit to Canada. The new rules include having a COVID-19 test prior to arriving in Canada, undergoing another test at the border, and registering with ArriveCan, a government website for entering detailed travel information and uploading scans of vaccination cards.

Despite the hassles, observing border protocols during a pandemic is one way to show love to neighbor. Perhaps vaccination records and health monitoring will become a normal part of crossing borders going forward. In the meantime, we are thankful for declining COVID-19 rates which will enable many Canadian expats to return home – some for the first time in over a year.

Author

  • Derek C. Schuurman is a Canadian currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is professor of computer science at Calvin University. Prior to arriving at Calvin, he worked as an engineer and taught for many years at Redeemer University. He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and an Associate Fellow of the Kirby Laing Center for Public Theology. Besides his technical interests he is interested in faith and technology issues. He is the author of Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (IVP, 2013) and a co-author of A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers (IVP, 2022).

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