Amid calls from Ontario to mandate a hotel quarantine protocol for travellers entering Canada at land borders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on Friday (April 30), said he is open to introducing harsher penalties for those who defy the government’s hotel and 14-day quarantine rules.
"We're always looking at doing more enforcement, at stepping up on the penalties on that, and we'll continue to work with the provinces," Trudeau told reporters at a press briefing.
But the PM didn’t say anything about expanding hotel quarantine measures to land entry points, suggesting that the measures the government has in place, now, already suffice.
"We know that importation through the border is extremely low in terms of cases in the country,” Trudeau said, noting that just five per cent of travellers are entering Canada via land.
Land vs. air
The Prime Minister's remarks came after the Ford government, on Thursday, sent a letter to federal officials, requesting that they expand the mandatory three-night hotel quarantine policy to land borders as well.
"We are requesting the implementation of a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine in federally designated hotels at the highest traffic crossings including those in Niagara, Windsor, Sarnia, and Brockville," reads the letter, signed by Ontario Deputy Premier Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, which was also verified by CBC News.
Trudeau, on Friday, didn’t indicate that this is something he would consider, citing “fundamental” differences between travellers arriving at the land border versus arriving at the airport.
"Anyone arriving at a land border, arriving from the United States, has been tested over the last three days by the U.S. and has been [there] for at least two weeks because of their own quarantine measures," Trudeau said, speaking in French. "So it’s not the same thing arriving directly by an international flight into one of our airports."
Premier Ford isn’t alone in his fight for stricter controls at land entry points – New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that all of Canada’s Premiers are behind Ontario’s call to bring in stronger quarantine restrictions at land borders.
Fines & penalties
The Canadian government introduced its mandatory three-night hotel quarantine policy for international air arrivals last February.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and local police oversee the issuing of fines for those who defy Ottawa’s quarantine orders – the fine for refusing to go to hotel, for instance, is upwards of $3,000.
PHAC, on April 28, told CTV News that hundreds of fines have been issued to travellers for refusing to stay at a government-approved hotel, saying that 404 tickets have been issued as of April 19.
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.
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.
Taking it to court
Meanwhile, debates and legal explanations about 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 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.
A motion for an injunction on quarantine facility policies was ultimately dismissed by federal court earlier this month.
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