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U.S. - Canada border crossings under tightening restrictions, including “Alaska Loophole”

The "Alaska Loophole" is facing criticism, as a result of reports that American travelers are breaking the conditions of their entry into Canada.
The "Alaska Loophole" is facing criticism, as a result of reports that American travelers are breaking the conditions of their entry into Canada.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 10, 2020 at 7:33 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Canada shored up its land borders last month. Now, the loophole which allows for non-discretionary travel to and from Alaska is becoming a problem in some provinces.

As a result, some Alaskans are finding it harder to cross the border than they anticipate, even when following the proper channels. The difficulties are likely the result of previous travelers abusing the “Alaska Loophole,” straying from the most direct path towards their destinations and instead visiting national parks and other tourist attractions.

According to John Streicker, the Yukon Territory’s Minister of Community Services, visitors have been seen stopping off to see the sites in places like Downtown Whitehorse. This has become a cause of concern for locals. Streicker says the Yukon’s smaller communities do not have the health care systems in place to deal with an outbreak.

“We’ve had roughly 150 travelers, each way -- each day since this started. That hasn’t really changed, but what has changed is the epidemiology in the lower 48, and Alaska as well,” he told KTUU on Monday. “With that change, Yukoners started to get more and more nervous.”

Months ago, Yukon and its neighbor to the south, British Columbia, established an inter-provincial check point at their borders. The hope was to use the extra stop as a way to ensure that travelers are staying on course, and not staying in Canada any longer than their allotted travel time.

More recently, the Canadian Border Services Agency announced its new crackdown on potential violators. Those who defy the rules provided upon entry could face fines up up to $750,000. If those actions result in any threat to the health of Canadian citizens, punishments jump to as much as $1,000,000 - plus 3 years imprisonment.

One recent example of the heightened restrictions is the denied entry of Gretch Wehmhoff, a co-owner of the recently purchased newspaper, The Skagway News.

Wehmhoff tells KTUU that she tried to cross the border at Beaver Creek in July. At the time, she thought she had done enough planning to guarantee her passage upon the condition that she was headed straight to Skagway for work. Ultimately, a border agent decided that the documentation she provided at the border was not enough to permit her admittance.

“His bottom line was that he didn’t see that it was important enough for him to deem that I could drive through Canada ...That there were other ways that I could get to Skagway,” she said.

Wehmhoff and her business partner purchased the paper earlier this Spring. Since she’s been working from Anchorage for months, CBSA employees said her trip making this trip now was not “non-discretionary.”

“It was just a big surprise. I’m not angry at all, at the Canadians,” Wehmhoff told KTUU.

She is more frustrated with the idea that so many Americans have violated the rules, creating a more difficult situation for her and others who planned to utilize the “Alaska Loophole.”

“COVID numbers are not pretty in our country and I don’t blame them for wanting to protect their citizens” she said

Wehmhoff had contacted both of Alaska’s U.S. Senator’s offices, and local legislators in Skagway about her denial. She says she plans to try to get back to Skagway again, later this year.

The British Columbia’s Office of the Premier also provided KTUU with a written statement in response to a request for comment of the matter. It reads:

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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