American Driving through Canada to Alaska Fined $569,000 for Stopping to Sightsee

Sebastian Blanco-August 29, 2020, 3:00 PM EDT

From Car and Driver

  • Americans can technically drive through Canada to Alaska right now, even though the border is closed. But there are rules to follow, and hitting up a sightseeing gondola is not allowed.
  • A Kentucky man didn’t follow the law and became the first American arrested in Canada for violating the country’s Quarantine Act, as NPR reported this week.
  • Canadian law enforcement officers have issued more than 20 tickets to foreigners who have not followed the new rules.

Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, has some of the most beautiful sights in all of North America. Some might say the views are priceless. But one American managed to put a price tag on seeing the peaks and now faces a potential fine of more than a half-million dollars for visiting the area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Pennington, from Walton, Kentucky, was recently arrested in Banff for violating Canada’s Quarantine Act. As you might suspect, that’s a new law that was implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the country, part of the country’s broad approach to combating the disease. Thus far, fewer than 10,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Canada.

As part of the new rules, Canada and the U.S. have closed the border between the two countries to nonessential travel since late March. Commercial vehicles and other essential vehicles still cross, and Pennington was allowed through the border thanks to a loophole of sorts that lets Americans drive from the Lower 48 through Canada and into Alaska (and vice versa), as long as they drive straight through, i.e., they can’t go looking at the majestic Banff mountains. Canada’s rules give drivers “a reasonable period” to make the drive and they “must limit [their] travel within Canada to the most direct route” to their destination while “avoiding all national parks, leisure sites, and tourism activities.”

So, when Pennington’s car with Ohio plates was reported to police at a sightseeing gondola on Sulphur Mountain in the park, the mounties arrested him, and he now faces a fine of up to $569,000 fine ($750,000 Canadian) as well as up to six months in jail. Ironically, he now has to appear in Canadian court in November.

If You Still Want to Go . . .

If you do need to drive through to or from Alaska, there are a number of restrictions on where you can enter, as there are only five open border crossings on the western side of the continent. And if you have any signs of COVID-19, don’t even bother trying to cross, as you will not be allowed to enter Canada with any such symptoms.

While Pennington was the first American arrested under Canada’s Quarantine Act, he was not the first person to flout its rules. A New York couple was fined $1450 ($2000 Canadian) in June for not self-quarantining after crossing the border. More than 20 tickets have been issued to foreigners in Canada for Quarantine Act offenses, including nine in Banff. Nonessential travel across the U.S.-Canadian border will remain limited until at least September 21, 2020.

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