Since February, travellers returning to Canada from abroad have been required to spend three nights in a government-approved hotel, at their own expensive, while awaiting PCR test results – and Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister says he’s no exception to the rules.
Reports on Monday (May 3) revealed that Minister Marc Garneau will stay in a quarantine hotel starting Wednesday (May 5) after returning from the United Kingdom where he's participating in the first in-person meeting of G7 foreign and development ministers in more than two years.
The story was first reported by the Canadian Press, which confirmed via Garneau's spokeswoman, Syrine Khoury, that the Minister will not receive any “special treatment” and has all intentions of following the rules that Canadians are being instructed to follow.
In addition to booking a three-night stay at a federally-approved hotel, Garneau will also take the mandatory PCR COVID-19 test before and after boarding his flight to Canada, Khoury told CP.
Garneau travelled to the U.K. with his communications director Ricky Landry and both have been undergoing daily rapid tests in between meetings, Khoury said.
Trouble at Club Fed
The federal government’s hotel quarantine program has been shaky at best following reports of returning travellers refusing the order and walking out of airports, accepting fines instead, and of loopholes at the Canada-U.S. land border, where travellers can enter Canada, via by foot or taxi, and be allowed to skip their hotel stay altogether.
The mandatory three-night federally-approved hotel stay, which can cost anywhere between $300 to $700 a night, applies to international air arrivals only.
The program is run by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and first took effect on Feb. 22.
The policy has faced widespread criticism, including concerns over PHAC’s lack of data in determining just how quarantining in a hotel will halt the spread of COVID-19 and its variants (as opposed to completing a 14-day quarantine at home).
It’s a legitimate area of concern, especially given that public health officials are already investigating possible COVID-19 outbreaks at quarantine hotels.
500+ tickets issues in YYZ & YVR
Canadian air passengers have quickly learned that they can refuse hotel quarantine upon landing at the airport and accept a police-issued fine instead.
Fines for refusing hotel quarantine typical come in $3,000 per person.
However, maximum penalties for breaking the Quarantine Act include a fine of up to $750,000 and/or six months in prison or even $1 million and three years in prison should the offender be found to have lied about quarantine plans or cause severe impact on someone else’s health (like death).
Between Feb. 22 and April 23, 1.9 per cent of the 168,887 air passengers who took COVID-19 tests after entering Canada tested positive, PHAC says.
It’s unclear as to how many Canadians, in total, have refused the hotel quarantine program upon arriving in one of the four cities currently accepting international flights – this being, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.
No fines in Alberta, Quebec?
According to a new CBC investigation, 513 tickets were issued to offenders in Toronto and Vancouver airports between Feb. 22 and April 25.
But travellers arriving in Calgary and Montreal, however, are apparently subject to different rules when it comes to receiving fines, the report revealed.
Several passengers who arrived in those two cities, and refused hotel quarantine, have yet to receive a ticket because in Quebec and Alberta, quarantine-related fines fall under provincial jurisdiction.
It’s therefore up to those provinces to issue tickets and in Calgary, CBC discovered that police have, so far, issued no fines in connection to skipping hotel quarantine.
Issuing a fine would require a PHAC officer launching a complaint and no complaint has been submitted yet, CBC found.
In Quebec, fines are issued by provincial prosecutors, PHAC told CBC, which learned that Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions has also not issued any fines related to defying the hotel quarantine order.
Taking it to court
The Justice Centre, a federally-registered charity that "defends citizens fundamental freedoms," has also challenged the Canadian government on its policy.
Last February, the organization filed legal action against the federal government for what it says will forcibly confine Canadians returning from travel in hotels, at a high cost, even when they are in possession of a negative PCR test.
But a motion for an injunction on quarantine facility policies was ultimately dismissed by federal court earlier this month.
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