Friday,  June 18, 2021  8:43 am

Ottawa to close sickness benefit loophole for quarantining travellers


Ottawa to close sickness benefit loophole for quarantining travellers
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

A recently-exposed loophole that is letting Canadians who are quarantining after travelling abroad claim the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) will be closed, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

According to government sources, Canadians taking holidays or travelling for non-essential reasons have been able to collect up to $1,000 in sick pay while in quarantine after returning home.

The technicality was confirmed by Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough’s press secretary, Marielle Hossack, in an interview with La Presse over the weekend. 

Speaking to media on Tuesday (Jan. 5), Trudeau clarified that the benefit "is not intended for travellers who are quarantining when they return from holiday." 

"It's not there to pay for someone's post-vacation quarantine," said Trudeau, noting how the benefit was created for people who have to take sick leave due to COVID-19, if they need to. 

Trudeau reiterated how Canada has some of the strongest travel measures in the world. "Since March, these measures have helped saved lives," he said. 

The Prime Minister again said that "no one should be vacationing abroad right now," reminding all travellers that starting this Thursday (Jan. 7) they must have a negative (PCR) COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before boarding a flight to Canada. 

Canada's mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement also remains in place. 

"You need to take this seriously," said Trudeau, adding that not following the rules can result in "real consequences" such as fines and prison time. 

"Officials are reviewing travellers' isolation plans and if the plan is not up to par, the travellers will have to quarantine in a federal facility," said Trudeau. 

An "accident of law"

Intergovernmental affairs minister Dominic LeBlanc echoed the Prime Minister's comments about the CRSB on Monday (Jan. 4), telling CBC News Network's Power & Politics that the government will, indeed, soon close this benefit to quarantining travellers.

"The idea that you can voluntarily decide to disrespect public health advice, go on an international trip and come back and, because you have to quarantine, somehow apply for a sickness benefit makes no sense at all," Minister LeBlanc told CBC host Vassy Kapelos. "It's an accident of law."

Canadians can apply for the CRSB if they're unable to work for at least half of a scheduled work week because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are isolating due to the virus.

People who meet the criteria are eligible for $500 per week ($450 after taxes withheld) for a maximum of two weeks.

The benefit has been targeted by critics who have suggested that the money might be supporting Canadians who are going against government advisories and travelling abroad for personal holidays.

"These people need an income replacement when they stay home not to go to work to protect the public. It's not meant to be a bonus for some irresponsible trip you took," LeBlanc told CBC.

Canada’s non-essential travel advisory has been in place since March 2020.


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