Ottawa’s requirement of a three-night stay in a quarantine hotel for all travellers arriving in Canada by air hasn’t applied to, nor has it been embraced, by everyone.
The federal order that mandates travellers stay in a government-approved hotel near airports in the four Canadian cities currently accepting international flights (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary), while awaiting COVID-19 PCR test results, came into effect on Feb. 21.
Since then, and following a rocky start, the controversial program continues to face questions, loopholes and backlash as several Canadian travellers have reportedly been exempt from hotel quarantine – or have simply refused to participate in it.
According recent data by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), released to the National Post on March 31, about one quarter of all air travellers arriving in Canada, from Feb. 21 to March 22, were exempt from the rules.
This represents roughly 26,000 travellers (23 per cent) who were not required to show proof of a pre-booked and fully-paid hotel stay, like every other traveller has had to do.
According to the Government of Canada, mandatory hotel stays do not apply to those who fall into categories such as airline crews, essential or emergency workers, government officials and others.
PHAC would not (or could not) release a breakdown of which travellers qualified for a pass, the National Post reports.
The new data shines light onto the hotel program’s effectiveness in curbing the spread of COVID-19, and compatibility – data, after all, didn’t seem to inform the program in the first place.
Eligible hotels for quarantining, which travellers book themselves, are outlined on the government’s website and the list of approved accommodations has grown since the program launched.
Police ticket 100
But Canadian travellers have also quickly learned that they can refuse the mandatory PCR test and hotel quarantine on arrival in exchange for a fine.
Reports of travellers walking out of Toronto Pearson airport, defying government orders, last February highlighted possible legal loopholes in the system.
At that time, the fine for refusing a hotel quarantine stay was reportedly in the $820 range, which is less than government-approved accommodations, which can run anywhere between $300 to $700 a night depending on the location.
According to PHAC’s data, police have, so far, issued 100 tickets to travellers for refusing a three-night hotel quarantine stay, which, as per the requirements, must be pre-paid and is non-refundable.
Breaching quarantine rules can result in various outcomes, it seems, from verbal warnings to fines to arrest, with local police typically handling most cases.
All international travellers entering Canada must submit to a mandatory PCR test on arrival and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says those who refuse to take the test, at the airport, could be fined $3,000.
Additionally, travellers who exit quarantine before the 14-day requirement is completed could face a fine of $3,000 for each day they are in non-compliance.
Maximum penalties for non-compliance can range from up to $750,000 and/or six months in jail, PHAC says, and if a traveller causes harm or death to another person while contravening quarantine rules, that person can face a fine of up to $1,000,000 and/or three years in prison.
How many positive cases?
But just how many travellers entering Canada are testing positive for COVID-19?
PHAC says that of the 94,135 COVID-19 tests done on all arriving travellers to Canada (both air and land) in the month since the quarantine hotel rules were put in place, 1,213 tested positive for COVID-19 – a positivity rate of 1.3 per cent.
Travellers entering Canada by land, it should be noted, are not required to stay in a hotel upon entry due to legal and logistical reasons (which we've covered in this article).
Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for PHAC, told the Post that this is equivalent to one person with COVID-19 on every single 100-passenger flight.
Though COVID-19 vaccinations are rolling out around the globe, CBSA maintains that travellers entering Canada who have been vaccinated are not exempt from COVID-19 testing, quarantine and other requirements.
Canada’s current emergency quarantine order is set to expire on April 21, but it could be extended, as it has been many times before.
Recently, Ottawa's hotel program was challenged in Ontario courts by the the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which has been arguing that the order does not constitute a legitimate limit on the rights of Canadians.
The requested injunction aimed at stopping the program, however, was dismissed as Justice Frederick Myers, in his decision, wrote that the Canadian government is "employing the precautionary principle to take measured but needed steps to prevent or delay the variants from taking hold in Canada as vaccines are coming online.”
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