A man travelling from Alaska to the continental United States has been charged with violating Canada's Quarantine Act amid accusations that he failed to follow COVID-19 public safety rules while in Banff — not just once but twice.
If he's found to have violated a quarantine order, he could be fined up to $750,000 or sentenced to six months in jail.
It started with a call from the Rimrock Hotel to police in late June, Banff RCMP say.
"Staff at the hotel were concerned about an American guest they thought was breaching the quarantine," Staff Sgt. Michael Buxton-Carr told CBC News.
"He had entered Canada from Alaska a couple of days previously. He was required to travel a direct route on his way to the lower 48 states."
While non-essential travel between Canada and the United States is prohibited due to the coronavirus crisis, Americans may come through Canada to get home to or from Alaska — but they're to use the most direct route to Alaska under the rules stated by the Canada Border Services Agency.
They are barred from driving through national parks, leisure sites and tourism locations and receive a hang tag for their rear-view mirror indicating the date they must depart Canada.
However, some Banff residents have started calling the rule the "Alaska loophole" after spotting American plates around the Alberta tourism hotspot.
Police ticketed John Pennington, 40, of Kentucky for breaching provincial health orders.
He was given the option to pay a $1,200 ticket or appear in court and told to stay in his hotel until he left the following day.
But Buxton-Carr says it didn't end there.
Ohio plates later seen at gondola
"Unfortunately, we were alerted the following afternoon to a vehicle with Ohio licence plates at the gondola to Sulphur Mountain," Buxton-Carr said.
"Investigators determined Mr. Pennington had not left town as required on the morning of June 26 but had chosen to visit a popular tourist site."
Pennington told police he was looking for food.
"There are amenities available for essential needs, food and lodging, at the hotel. There was no legitimate reason to go up to Sulphur Mountain," Buxton-Carr said.
He was arrested for breach of the federal Quarantine Act and is scheduled to appear in a Canmore court in November.
Pennington declined an interview Wednesday when contacted by CBC News, saying he might be willing to talk at a later date.
Only one American arrested so far
Buxton-Carr says incidents like this, where ticketing and charges are employed rather than educational efforts, have actually been quite rare.
"The vast majority of Americans and vehicles with American licence plates are people who are here for legitimate reasons. This is the only arrest we have made under the Quarantine Act and the Banff RCMP detachment has only issued one ticket so far," he said.
"The vast majority of offences are at the minor end of the scale."
7 tickets issued outside of townsite
Residents and hospitality workers spotted licence plates from as far away as Texas and New York in June.
By June 21, RCMP had issued seven $1,200 tickets to Americans for stopping to see the sights in the park, outside of the townsite.
The Canada Border Services Agency said at the time U.S. residents travelling through Canada would have to explain their reasons for travel.
Spokesperson Brissette Lesage said providing false information to officers upon entry is considered misrepresentation and has consequences, including possibly being denied entry or being banned from returning to Canada.
The Canada Border Services Agency only allows such travellers to enter at one of five crossings: Abbotsford-Huntingdon (British Columbia), Kingsgate (British Columbia), Osoyoos (British Columbia), Coutts (Alberta) and North Portal (Saskatchewan).