Travellers are walking out of Toronto Pearson airport, bypassing the federal government’s new hotel quarantine protocol, while accepting a fine that is less than the hotel stay itself, reports say.
Reports documenting Ottawa’s latest travel protocol, which requires international arrivals to stay for up to three nights in a government-approved hotel while awaiting PCR test results, indicate that the new protocol has yet another loophole.
Mississauga-based news outlet, insauga.com, reports that several air passengers on Monday (Feb. 22) were spotted waltzing right out of the arrivals area at YYZ after brief confrontations with police and airport officials.
The outlet reports that Peel Police are not detaining or arresting people who choose to skip their hotel quarantine.
Instead, offenders are reportedly receiving fines in the $820 range, which is less than the cost of the hotel stay itself, which runs anywhere between $300 to $700 a night, depending on the location, for up to three nights.
The Canadian Press on Wednesday (Feb. 24) reported that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was “aware of the situation” and looking into it.
However, air travellers who willingly choose to ignore the rules at Canada's airports could face a follow-up call from Health Canada…and possibly an even steeper fine.
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.
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News on Tuesday (Feb. 24) that it’s up to the discretion of CBSA officers on whether or not to fine people – particularly those have made attempts to make a reservation, but couldn’t get through on the line.
As previously reported, Canada’s new hotel quarantine policy got off to a rocky start this past weekend as passengers faced extra-long wait times and failures in the booking system, which is being managed by American Express Global Business Travel.
Much to the frustration of those trying to comply with the rules, hotel reservations can only be made by telephone (not online or at the hotel itself) and must be booked in advance.
But some people aren’t having it, as CityNews, in an exclusive video, captured a woman blatantly walking out of Toronto Pearson airport, defying government orders, after refusing to pay for a hotel when she could quarantine at her empty home.
Cara Zwibel, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told CityNews that “it would difficult for the government to forcibly take people to hotels if they refuse to go.”
While some reports have indicated that travellers flying to Canada without hotel reservations may be denied boarding, Transport Canada confirmed with CTV on Feb. 23 that air carriers are not required to verify hotel reservations or deny a traveller boarding if that person has been unable to book a room.
Travellers who arrive at the airport without a booking will be referred to a government official for follow-up, officials say.
Lack of data & loopholes
Ottawa’s hotel quarantine measure has already been called into question by health critics.
Last week, at a federal committee meeting, Tory health critic MP Michelle Rempel Garner asked what data was used to determine why hotels are better than homes for quarantining and how the measure outpaces the effectiveness of Alberta’s pilot project, which has been suspended.
Calgary-based Rempel Garner asked, twice, and was met with silence until Kimberly Elmslie, senior vice-president of the immunization program at PHAC, one of six health officials present at the meeting, she would have to check and follow up at a future meeting.
Travellers entering Canada by land are not required to stay in a hotel upon entry due to legal and logistical reasons (which you can read all about here).
However, this has led to a widely-publicized loophole in the system as travellers fly to airports near the Canada-U.S. land border and cross the border, by foot, in order to avoid paying for quarantine in a hotel.
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