Rebekah McDonald of Red Deer. (Screenshot by Advocate staff)

Rebekah McDonald of Red Deer. (Screenshot by Advocate staff)

Calls for more ‘transparency’ after returning Alberta traveller detained at airport

‘Heavy-handed’ response was unnecessary say local politicians

Premier Jason Kenney is calling for more federal openness after a Red Deer man was whisked away after landing at the Calgary airport by officials who considered his prior COVID test inadequate.

“We understand the need for quarantine requirements, but ask that federal agencies be more transparent,” Kenney tweeted Monday evening.

The premier was reacting to complains of returning travellers being detained in isolation while their families are left in the dark about what’s happening.

This scenario unfolded for a 20-year-old Red Deer man last weekend. His mother, Rebekah McDonald, posted a tearful video on Facebook and YouTube recounting the upsetting experience at Calgary airport.

McDonald said before she could fully greet her son, Ethan — whom she hadn’t seen for two years as he had been living in Arizona — he was loaded into a van by masked strangers, who refused to disclose to the family where they were taking him, or when his parents could talk to him.

McDonald said she was told: “‘We are taking him for an undisclosed amount of time to an undisclosed place, where he will be tested and we will decide when he’s released.’

“It seemed that nobody had any answers for me and nobody would clarify anything… That was really scary, and very confrontation.”

McDonald was also told authorities didn’t need consent to take Ethan into isolation. “I’m freaked out that this is totally legal,” she added.

The family later learned the COVID test her son had done in the U.S. wasn’t the correct one and he needed to be retested.

According to the Canadian government website, a molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is needed.

McDonald said she tried to comply with re-entry rules when booking Ethan’s test, but due to “human error,” her son got the wrong kind of testing in Arizona.

“We weren’t trying to be irresponsible in any manner… What we were met with was the most crazy, tyrannical experience. It was almost surreal, and complete unacceptable.”

While McDonald’s son is home now, having tested negative for the virus again, she remains angry — especially after hearing this has happened to other people.

“There are better ways to treat each other,” McDonald said. “People fought long and hard for our freedoms and this feels really wrong.”

At Monday’s Red Deer city council meeting, Coun. Vesna Higham expressed concern about what the family went through.

If a second COVID test was needed, the family would have understood if the reasons were explained in a respectful manner, said Higham.

She urged for better communications between federal authorities and returning travellers, saying there was no need to hide from the family where Ethan was being taken and for how long.

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Premier Kenney tweeted a similar sentiment, saying “People entering Canada have an obligation to inform themselves about and comply with testing and quarantine requirements. But federal agencies … could avoid a lot of anger and confusion if they were more transparent about where people will be staying, etc..”

Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan said in an opinion piece to the Advocate that the kind of treatment the Red Deer family experienced was “unaccountably heavy-handed” and suggested it encroaches on the freedoms Canadians are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

(With files from Susan Zielinksi)

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Rebekah McDonald, of Red Deer, is upset after her son was taken into isolation after his return to Canada at Calgary airport without adequate explanation to his family. (Screenshot by Advocate staff)

Rebekah McDonald, of Red Deer, is upset after her son was taken into isolation after his return to Canada at Calgary airport without adequate explanation to his family. (Screenshot by Advocate staff)