ArriveCAN app leaves some seniors feeling unfairly restricted
Dorothy Lipovenko doesn’t need a cell phone and doesn’t want one. But the Montrealer wonders if she could soon lose this choice if she wants to travel.
On a recent grocery trip to the United States, Lipovenko and her husband filled in ArriveCAN information from their home computer before leaving. They showed their receipt at the border when they returned later that evening and got back home with no problem.
But it only worked because his trip was less than 72 hours. For longer, she would have to use a mobile device or public desktop, or risk delays at the border, be subject to quarantine regardless of her vaccination status, and potentially subject to fines.
During the pandemic, Canada launched ArriveCAN, a mandatory app for travelers entering the country. Canadians enter their travel information and upload their vaccination certificates to a mobile device. But for those without a mobile device, including older Canadians, the app is just another way advocates say seniors are being left behind in an increasingly digital world.
“Basically, we’re limited,” said Lipovenko, 69, noting that as long as ArriveCAN remains mandatory, she will have to limit how long she travels or buy a cellphone just to travel. “I don’t relish the prospect of suddenly realizing that my opportunities to travel are limited in this way because I just don’t have a certain technology.
“What happens if it becomes permanent? Will we have to buy a service that we don’t want or use in order to make the most basic trip outside of the United States? ” she says. “What about fixed income retirees…do they need that extra expense right now, especially with inflation?”
While other COVID restrictions have eased, ArriveCAN remains mandatory and is expected to remain so at least until the end of September.
(There is a one-time exemption from ArriveCAN for travelers entering Canada by land if they are fully vaccinated. The measure was introduced “to provide more flexibility for travelers with no history of non-compliance, who were not -be unaware of the requirement to submit their mandatory health information through ArriveCAN,” the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said in an email. Travelers still need to manually provide their public health information. May 24 to August 4, the exemption was used 308,800 times. )
Those without a smartphone or mobile data can use a computing device to submit their information, the CBSA said in an email. Alternatively, they can ask a friend or relative for help, even if they’re not traveling together, and ask them to send a printout or screenshot to the traveler.
But Lipovenko said borrowing a device from an airport or hotel is not only inconvenient, but raises privacy concerns.
“I don’t want to leave that kind of information on a stranger’s computer,” she said.
CARP, an advocacy group for older Canadians, says the guidelines are “paternalistic,” assuming everyone has access to support networks or the ability to get to a place where they can access computing devices.
“There’s a lot of ageist assumptions about how easy it can be,” said community manager Anthony Quinn, noting that CARP has received concerns from several older people about the app.
Among the few exceptions to using ArriveCAN are accessibility reasons. Online government guidelines direct travelers with accessibility needs to the web version of ArriveCAN, which meets federal accessibility guidelines and is compatible with screen readers and magnifying glasses.
“We are working to make the mobile app available as quickly as possible,” the guidelines say.
But the only exemptions on the basis of accessibility are for people with cognitive or physical disabilities (based on the World Health Organization definition). In these cases, travelers can provide their information on paper and respond to questions verbally.
Earlier this year, Manitoba Conservative MP Raquel Dancho told the House of Commons that ArriveCAN “is so difficult that some seniors have to cancel trips for funerals, weddings and the birth of grandchildren. They face massive fines and mandatory quarantine, all because of a government enforcement.
Mark Weber, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said the app has caused delays at the border, especially for older Canadians. Although staff are instructed to tell anyone without an app-enabled mobile device to use a desktop computer, Weber says it’s impractical because of border lines.
“A lot of times we just help them finish it, or do it for them,” he said in mid-July, noting that it prevents officers from doing their other work.
There aren’t enough staff to handle the throngs of travelers, Weber said. Under the current system, even if travelers were allowed to submit hard copies of documents, an agent would still have to submit the documents online before giving them entry.
In addition to posing a technological barrier, the CEO of CanAge said mandating the use of ArriveCAN may present financial barriers for those who do not already own mobile devices or have data plans.
It’s worth assessing whether the app is necessary, Laura Tamblyn Watts said, or whether telephone, print and in-person alternatives can be offered.
Nor is it the only problem seniors face as the world moves increasingly online. Many businesses have stopped taking cash during the pandemic, which is often the payment method of choice for older Canadians, she added. The same is true for online banking, where clerks are increasingly being replaced by ATMs, and businesses such as airlines where it is cheaper to check in online.
“A lot of people are literally being left behind,” she said.