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COMMENTARY: Are the American hordes really at the gates of Canada?

Canada’s greatest coronavirus threat comes from U.S.
The Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel, as America's COVID-19 infections surge.

In British Columbia, they’re calling it the “Alaska Loophole,” a sneaky border-hopping move by Americans looking for an illegal Canadian vacation.

And with COVID-19 cases exploding in many states south of the border, why wouldn’t Americans want to head north to chill out in a country where the novel coronavirus pandemic is under better control?

“Some people are trying to escape and I don’t blame them,” said Jim Abram, a municipal politician from the Strathcona Regional District on the B.C. coast.

Nearly 3 million Americans test positive for COVID-19
Nearly 3 million Americans test positive for COVID-19

“But we fought hard against this pandemic, risking the lives of our front-line health-care workers, and we’ve been very successful in flattening the curve.

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“We don’t want to let that sacrifice be for nothing. We sure as hell don’t want to see tens of thousands of new COVID cases every day like we’re seeing in the United States. We need to keep that border closed.”

But the border is closed already, restricted to essential travellers only.

That’s where the “Alaska Loophole” comes in.

According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, Americans are allowed into the country if they are driving straight to Alaska, as long as they can “substantiate their purpose” for the trip to border officials.

Read more: As travel increases, Canada boosting presence of health officials at airports, U.S. border

According to the CBSA, very few travellers appear to be doing this.

Out of a typical weekly flow of 200,000 border crossings in June, over half were truck drivers delivering essential goods to Canada. About 60,000 were Canadians and permanent residents of Canada returning home from the states. And about 35,000 were American workers in critical “exempt industries” like health care.

According to those figures, it would seem only a handful of Americans are using the “Alaska Loophole” to flee their own country and escape the virus.

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But B.C. Premier John Horgan is not convinced.

“We’re concerned about this phenomenon and we’re hearing about it in communities right across the province,” said Horgan, who also points to the province’s success in flattening the transmission rate of the virus.

“We do not want to throw that away for queue jumpers, for people who want to say they’re going somewhere and then do something else.”

Are Americans really sneaking across the border in large numbers?

Concerned critics point to recent police action, including a pair of Minnesota residents ticketed for entering Ontario and failing to observe a required 14-day quarantine.

Read more: Coronavirus: Canada-U.S. border shutdown extended to July 21

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And the RCMP ticketed seven Americans apparently enjoying an illegal vay-cay in Banff.

Residents of many B.C. towns and cities, meanwhile, report unusually high numbers of vehicles with American licence plates, some of them towing boats and trailers.

“I hear about it every day,” Abram said. “The border needs to be tightened up.”

But others think the border is sufficiently secure already.

“I’ve been getting calls from people who have not been able to enter Canada even when they have a legitimate reason,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Alex Stojicevic, who warns against judging someone by their licence plates.

Coronavirus: Why reopening the Canada-US border too soon could mean a ‘second wave’
Coronavirus: Why reopening the Canada-US border too soon could mean a ‘second wave’

A lot of Americans are legally in Canada already and can drive a vehicle with American plates for up to six months, he said.

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And then there’s the matter of lying to border officials or breaking Canada’s Quarantine Act, offences that can trigger massive fines, jail terms and bans from entering the country.

Still, watch for this issue to heat up. If the virus continues to rage in America, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government may fall under increased pressure to clamp down harder on the border.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.