I recently came back to America as an unvaccinated Canadian citizen and a permanent U.S. resident.
Here's what happened when I did so:
On Nov. 18 – with my Canadian passport, my Green Card and my negative COVID-19 PCR test result in hand – I was set to come back home to my family in Florida.
At Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, I was told by the airline agent that my COVID test was not valid for travel to the United States. She said the rules had recently changed and that unvaccinated travelers now needed a rapid antigen test taken the day before their flight. The agent added that I could fly to Pearson International Airport in Toronto and book an antigen test at their on-site testing facility before my connecting flight.
Upon arrival in Toronto I was determined to make my flight to Orlando. I had to get my luggage, catch the shuttle train to the testing facility at Viscount Station past Terminal 3, get back to Terminal 1, check in for my flight, make it through the security checkpoint, through U.S. Customs and then board my flight.
There was a lot of running involved. I thought I was going to make it, but by the time I made it back to the airline check-in counter, the gate was closed and I missed my connection. As I was rebooking my flight, I received the result of my rapid antigen test. It was negative.
With my negative antigen test and my new booking in hand, I went to the airline counter for an early check-in. The agent asked for my vaccination status, my COVID test and my passport. She then said that my antigen test was not valid and that I needed a 24-hour PCR test for my flight the next day.
I was confused; after all, the agent in Quebec City said that an antigen test combined with my PCR test would suffice to fly to the U.S. Nevertheless, to avoid being denied boarding, I went back to the testing site to get my nose probed for the third time in 48 hours – and then I checked into a hotel.
The next day I went to Terminal 1 three hours before my flight to check in. While I was checking in at the counter, my 24-hour PCR test result came in. It was negative.
After speaking with her supervisor, the airline agent at the check-in counter told me that I needed both a PCR test taken within 72 hours, and an antigen test taken within 24 hours. The PCR test that I took the day before was unnecessary. As it turned out, the first airline agent in Quebec City was correct.
With my ticket, passport and Green Card in hand, my luggage checked in, my three COVID-19 PCR and antigen tests cued up, I arrived at U.S. Customs after the security checkpoint in the airport. I gave my passport and my Green Card to the border agent. He greeted me in courteous fashion and took my picture – and with a smile he said I was all set. It only took a minute.
When I was walking through the gated section of the airport, I realized that the American border agent did not ask me for proof of vaccination – nor did he ask for proof of a negative COVID test.
After three nose probes, more than $1,000 in Canadian dollars spent on unforeseen costs and a delayed return flight, I finally boarded a plane and landed in the Free State of Florida.
I fell into my husband’s arms. I was home
Like so many unvaccinated people in the world today I was caught in the crossfire of ever-changing international COVID edicts. There were moments in the vortex of COVID tests and contradictory information when I wondered if I was going to make it across the Canadian border before it completely closes to unvaccinated people on Nov. 30.
As international borders are closing to the billions of people around the world who are not fully COVID-19 vaccinated, the notion of freedom takes on a new existential dimension.
Freedom is palpable. It is not merely an abstract concept or an unattainable ideology. It is something that you can feel in your body, in your mind and in your heart when you cross a border into a place that is freer than the one you left behind.
I don’t know when I will see my beloved Canada again.
I don’t know when I will see my family and friends up North again.
I only hope that my country once again becomes the free democracy it once was. I hope that it becomes the place I once knew, the place that my grandparents and parents chose as their promised land. I hope that it opens its borders to everyone without discrimination and not only to the “fully jabbed” few. I hope that it remembers all of the brave Canadians who gave their lives in every armed conflict of the last few centuries so that Canada may continue to be our True North – strong, fearless and free.
There is a price to pay for choosing the road less traveled in the COVID age, the one where your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not contingent upon a QR code.
But if it means that I get to choose informed consent over coercion, that I get to decide what medical products are injected into my body, that I get to choose which medical procedures I undergo and that I get to keep the sanctity of privacy of the reason behind my decision, then it is a price I am willing to pay.
In the age of coronavirus, that is the price of freedom.
Mary Dawood Catlin is a writer, historian and pianist who resides in St. Augustine. Follow her on Twitter: The Resolutist @TResolutist)
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: For the unvaccinated, crossing US-Canada border is a test of freedom