Saturday,  July 31, 2021  2:32 pm

PHAC fines hotel quarantine offenders; legal challenge launched


PHAC fines hotel quarantine offenders; legal challenge launched
The CCF has filed an application with Ontario's Superior Court of Justice seeking an end Canada's hotel quarantine policy. (Canadian Constitution Foundation)
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.

Reports say the Government of Canada has issued 15 tickets to travellers who arrived in Canada without a hotel quarantine booking and who refused to stay in a quarantine hotel.

According to a report by CityNews on March 10, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) issued most offenders a fine of $3,000 under the Quarantine Act.

The source points out that it’s not clear if that is the total, or for each day of non-compliance, as described under the act.

PHAC says that the maximum penalties for breaking the Quarantine Act include a fine of up to $750,000 and/or six months in prison.

READ MORE: Travellers are walking out of YYZ, receiving fines cheaper than hotel quarantine stay

Penalties can increase to as much as $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.

Legal debates/challenges erupt 

Meanwhile, debates and legal explanations on the constitutional rights of Canadians have swirled about on social media ever since reports of air passengers refusing Canada’s quarantine requirement by purposely walking out of airports began to surface.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) began bringing the legal challenges of hotel quarantine to light by launching a petition in September called "No to Quarantine Prison Hotels.”

Traveller Steve Duesing stuck in hotel quarantine. (The Justice Centre/jccf.ca)

The CCF is a charitable organization that defends the constitutional rights of Canadians before the courts and before the public option.

READ MORE: "No to Quarantine Prison Hotels": CCF launches petition against travel requirement

In its view, hotel quarantine does not constitute a legitimate limit on the rights of Canadians.

“Our Charter explicitly protects the right of Canadians to enter, remain and leave Canada. The imposition of these "quarantine prison hotels" is a clear violation of the right of Canadians to enter their own country," stated Christine Van Geyn, director of litigation at the CCF.

The CCF, on March 9, filed an application with Ontario's Superior Court of Justice along with five individuals, seeking an end to the policy, the Canadian Press reported.

The organization is arguing that hotel quarantine requirements are "overbroad, arbitrary and grossly disproportionate."

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are aware of the legal action and the federal government intends to respond, CP reports.

Off to a rocky start

Canada’s controversial hotel quarantine program, which requires international arrivals to stay for up to three nights in a government-approved hotel while awaiting PCR test results, got off to rocky start last month as travellers reported super long wait times and system failures while trying to book a room.

On Feb. 19, the federal government released a preliminary list of approved hotels for quarantine in the four Canadian cities that are currently accepting international flights – this being, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

That list has since been updated as several more hotels have been added to the list, with some venues now offering an online-booking option (previously, reservations were limited to telephone). 

READ MORE: Hotel quarantine program off to rocky start

There are currently 47 quarantine hotels nation-wide (currently, in the GTA, there are 17 hotels, but only 12 are open for online booking).

Costs of these hotel stopovers, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously pegged at $2,000, vary by location. However, reports indicate that some hotels are charging far less than what Trudeau originally stated.

Travellers can leave their quarantine hotels once a COVID-19 test, taken at the airport, comes back negative.

Where's the data?

The program has also received widespread criticism in political circles.

At a committee meeting on Feb. 19, Tory health critic MP Michelle Rempel Garner inquired about what data was used to conclude that hotels are better than homes for quarantining, post-travel, and how this measure outpaces the effectiveness of Alberta’s pilot project. 

MP Michelle Rempel Garner asked health officials on Feb. 19 about what data was used to inform the government's hotel quarantine policy.

Calgary-based Rempel Garner was met with awkward silence at the meeting, which was attended by six health officials.

READ MORE: What data informed Canada’s hotel quarantine decision? Health officials can’t say

"Trudeau’s hotel quarantine policy has nothing to do with public health or public safety and everything to do with public relations," later wrote BC-based MP Mark Strahl on his twitter account. "This exchange proves that."

The Justice Centre, a legal organization and federally-registered charity that "defends citizens fundamental freedoms," has also challenged the Canadian government on its policy.

Last month, the organization sent a legal demand letter to Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra warning it would sue in Federal Court if the government proceeded with its threat to confine returning Canadians.

“Citizens are being held unlawfully despite not having been convicted of any offence, not having had access to a lawyer, and not having appeared before a judge. Law enforcement officers are apparently refusing to inform family members of where their loved ones are being held,” wrote Justice Centre lawyer Sayeh Hassan.

“This outrageous policy aligns with the world’s most repressive and undemocratic regimes and is totally unacceptable.”


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