Banff residents worry U.S. tourists visiting town thanks to so-called ‘Alaska loophole’

While non-essential travel between Canada and the United States is prohibited, some Banff residents say they’ve seen Texas, California and even New York licence plates in town recently.

Nina Stewart said some of her friends who work in the restaurant industry have recently served tourists — and she even spotted some southern visitors herself.

“Two days ago, I saw four people get out of a car, out of a Texas vehicle,” she said. “They were laughing and joking about how easy it was to get into Banff.”

It’s being called the “Alaska loophole” by some locals, referring to a rule observed by the Canada Border Services Agency.

Under current rules, Americans may come through Canada to get home to Alaska — but that’s it. 

“Upon arrival at the port of entry, a traveller seeking to transit through Canada to Alaska will be required to substantiate their purpose for going to Alaska,” said Judith Gadbois St-Cyr, a spokesperson with the CBSA, in an email to CBC News.

“Only in circumstances where the traveller is considered to be transiting through to Alaska for a non-discretionary purpose will they be admitted to Canada.

“Should an officer have any doubts with regards to the traveller’s intended purpose, the traveller will be required to prove/substantiate their purpose of travel.”

Hotels should be avoided, food stops should be drive-thrus and bathroom breaks are supposed to be at rest stops with masks on. 

St-Cyr noted that there are legitimate reasons for the presence of a U.S. resident or a U.S.-plated vehicle in Canada.

But some worry that these Americans passing through may neglect to self-isolate for 14 days while stopping in the community.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Michael Buxton-Carr said he received a complaint from a local restaurant asking how to deal with those who might flout the rules.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Michael Buxton-Carr says he received a call from a restaurant in Banff seeking information on how to handle visits from U.S. tourists. (Helen Pike/CBC)

“We’re still gathering information,” Buxton-Carr said. “We don’t yet know whether we have a trend or whether we have isolated events that are being repeated through word of mouth or social media.” 

Buxton-Carr says if residents or those working in Banff should come across U.S. vacationers, they should contact RCMP and Alberta Health Services. 

“We want our reopening to be safe for residents and visitors. We want to do it right, we want to do it once,” he said.

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