Departing in 2020 and Arriving in 2021 - A Toronto Pearson Airport Experience
This is a story of my most stressful and ridiculously insane return travel experiences ever. On July 3rd, 2021, I finally was able to return home after my return flight got cancelled from Varadero, Cuba for February due to new Canadian flight restrictions to the Caribbean. Though I was very happy to stay longer with my husband in Cardenas, I never imagined such an extended stay. I arrived in Cuba mid-November in 2020 after about 5 flight cancellations with WestJet. It was truly wonderful and emotional to finally see my husband after 9 months of separation due to all the border closures. It was very hard and it was very stressful not knowing when I could see him again. I finally got the second available flight to Varadero with Air Canada. I was in tears when it finally took off the ground at Pearson Airport.
After my return flight to Toronto was cancelled, Air Canada did not offer flights until July 2021. During all that time, requirements and restrictions kept changing and I really didn't know what to expect. But I prayed the vax pass at least wouldn't pass, as I felt that is completely against human rights, but deep down I knew that they couldn't do that.
Finally one week before my return flight I looked at the Canadian government website to find out what I needed to be ready for. A negative test result; sure, ArriveCan form; sure (no thanks to the app though), a pre-booked government-approved hotel for a 3 day quarantine to await test results from the airport; definitely not! I asked around to find out about the laws regarding this and everyone said the same "Take the $5000 fine and take it to court, its not a real law".
I was prepared for that ultimate confrontation at the YYZ airport, I was preparing mentally the whole week before my flight back. It was finally time to head for the airport and saying goodbye to my husband after such a long stay was really hard but it was time to go. The departure flight from Varadero was about 3 hours delayed, as the check-in process is an even longer hassle now. The Cuban man infront of me started to scare me that I need to show my hotel booking to leave the country, but I knew that couldn't be true, but the statement still caused me anxiety, luckily I didn't get asked. There was so much paperwork to check from each passenger and not everyone was prepared properly and had to take care of things on the spot. Even foreigners with expired visas were renewing before going through customs. The actual 3.5 hour flight was the easiest part of the day, other than the mandatory masks, I don't care for them at all. The announcer had to state that "Even if you are fully vaccinated you still have to wear a mask" which I thought was pretty hilarious. With some minor turbulence the flight passed pretty quickly.
ARRIVING IN TORONTO
So now I was starting to get nervous. We had to wait in the plane after landing as they said they didn't want too many people in the customs area at once, but it looked the same to me as usual. Even a bit more chaotic and tense wth police standing in the background. I approached the customs officer and provided all the necessary documents and forms. She then asked if I had a hotel reservation and I said no, and she said "why not?", I said because I want to "quarantine" at home. She looked irritated and then put a blue sticker on my passport. I had a feeling what that meant...
ATTEMPTING MY ESCAPE FROM YYZ
I proceeded to luggage pick-up and my luggage was already there waiting which was nice. Went through the next checkpoint leaving the luggage area and it was smooth. This is normally the point where you get to leave through a long hallway and come out to see your family (or friends) waiting eagerly outside for you to take you home. But not now. Now there is another checkpoint that leads to the testing area. The staff there looks at your passport and if he sees the blue sticker he asks you to go left instead of right. I start walking left and I didn't have a good feeling about it. I go down this hallway and after the corner turns I see into a room where there are signs for booking the quarantine hotels. I felt like a trapped animal. I didn't know what to do next. My Mom keeps calling me on the phone to ask how its going, I tell her I'm now faced with dealing with this really sketchy looking room and I refuse to book anything. I get frustrated and turn back, one staff lady tries to call me and stop me. I get back to the original checkpoint and the staff tells me I have to go back to book as he still sees my blue sticker, I said "I don't want to go to the hotel". Then a cop pounces out of nowhere and blocks me, I repeated my earlier statement, he said he can ticket me for not booking. I started to get really upset and told him that I had been in Cuba for almost 8 months and haven't been working (though that wasn't fully my reason for not wanting to do it). He said I could tell my story to someone at the hotel booking room and maybe they will let me go.
I reluctantly turn back again ready to have that conversation with someone to see what happens. More people started to pile up behind me very confused as to where they were and why. I loudly explained that it was because they had a blue sticker and are expected to book the hotel. Everyone was really upset. I started to speak with an elderly Indian woman who was a Canadian citizen and she really didn't feel comfortable doing the hotel, also agreed it wasn't necessary after already having a negative test. She later told me that she already had covid at some point prior and got over it. She wasn't happy about being treated this way. Another rep was intimidating a family of Indian women that they have to book the hotel or get a fine, that she doesn't make the rules. I loudly interupted and said that I was pretty sure that fine doesn't stand up in court anyway, she turned around and changed her demeanor responding "well I don't really know, I can't really say". My turn came to speak to a rep who was actually really nice and heard me out. but very much sounded like a pushy salesperson, she said hotel or fine, and that the available hotel would be $900. I said I'll take the fine and she led me to the fine line around the corner of the same room. Many people were taking the fine, people who understood their rights, people from all demographics. I continued to state my opinions loudly and everyone was agreeing with eachother, this wasn't right. A guy in front of me was refusing both the hotel and the test which were two separate fines (I didn't find out how much that one was for).
It was my turn to speak to the fine officer and again was also pretty nice, one form was being filled out regarding reason and length of travel. The fine looked like something you would get for speeding. He told me my options: pay the fine, see a prosecutor (then trial if necessary), or go directly to trial. I planned to do the second. He explained pretty vaguely that the court could take up to a year to happen and that anything can change in that time. He was not intimidating me at all, almost assuring that there wasn't much to worry about. Maybe that was my interpretation. So he changed my blue sticker to a green one which signified to airport staff that I took the fine and was able to leave without going to the hotel. Now I was "free" to go to the testing area.
HEADING FOR TESTING
As I now left that awful room with relief, I passed the same cop again who had earlier blocked me, he asked how it went, I said "We will see" and showed him my passprt with the new sticker. Now I could pass into the main part of the airport which is the last section, but had to wait in a testing line that was about 200 people at least. I couldn't believe it. Two rows side by side full of people, I laughed to myself thinking that if there was anywhere to catch a virus it would be in that line. They claim to be so concerned with the elderly, but they also had to wait in this long line which took 2 hours, they should have an express line for them. Then I get approached by another rep to qr code for Switch Health to register for this testing facility, I don't do qr codes so he let me use his ipad as I was being fussy about doing anything online. I observed all around me and the staff doing the testing were mostly really young. And the police everywhere were all tall big intimidating looking men, I've never seen so many police at an airport. Not even in Cuba. As I waited in this line my Mom was causing some trouble of her own trying to get into the airport to see me, the door security hassled her but she was able to catch my attention and I waved from the testing line.
My time came for the test, at least it was free, in Cuba I had to pay $30usd before I left. This test was the most painful of all (when arriving in Cuba I also had to test), so intrusive and uncomfortable. After the young "nurse" (I don't think she was an actual nurse) probed my nose I had to collect a Home Testing Kit for day 8 of my 14 day arrival quarantine. Then another security checks your passport again and guides you towards the hotel shuttle or the main exit. Funny enough the girl infront of me also stated she was not going to the hotel so I was gestured to follow her. Another security staff waits at the exit door again checking the passport sticker. I had the green sticker hence the green light so I was free to go finally! I walked out those doors so relieved but slightly traumatized lol. I had gone through a threshold of sorts, I have confronted a cop on my first day back and I was ready for anything!
My Dad stood directly infront of the doors waiting for me, I walked towards him so happy while he reminded me to take off my mask! In Cuba we had to wear them on the street so I sadly got used it. It felt like an escape from an asylum. We gave eachother a big hug! My Mom waited in the car and as soon as I got in I was like "Lets get the heck out of here!". And we drove off... And if you are thinking "How can you be so irresponsible and hug your parents after travelling on a plane and being in an airport?!" let me tell you this. My parents don't care about this whole cv thing, and they definitely are not vulnerable in any way. They are strong healthy Polish parents who don't depend on pharma pills. They gave me full support in my decision to refuse the hotel. They fled Communist Poland when I was 3. They are done with it.
I continued my 14 day quarantine after repeated negative test results because you can get a fine again for being caught outside somewhere, but I never had anyone check on me. My airport test results came back within 24 hours, the hotel would've been a complete waste of time and money. Today is day 14. Tomorrow I get my freedom back in Canada as a perfectly healthy individual. Now I am no longer seen as a health threat to society for sitting at home with zero symptoms. Pretty ridiculoso! No logic at all. But its good to be back!
UPDATE: August 1, 2021
After filing my fine on the mississauga.ca website on Monday July 26, I got an email that I will receive my trial details within a few months. Yes a few months! I was told by Rebecca Shephard (Stand4Thee) that they have 18 months to complete the trial process otherwise it automatically is no longer valid. Also since it wasn't even a police or "peace" officer who gave me the fine, it will definitely get thrown out. It was a health ministry staff which isn't even legally allowed to take personal information or even write a ticket, which I was not aware of at the time. The ticket basically looks like it was designed for speeding or any other traffic offence.
Visit stand4thee.ca for all your legal advice regarding your rights during these crazy times in Canada.