Canadians who flout quarantine laws could face stiffer penalties, Trudeau says

·4 min read
The Public Health Agency of Canada said that from Feb. 22 to April 18, it received 50,905 test results from land travellers on the day they arrived in Canada. Of those, 128 — or 0.25 per cent of the total — tested positive for COVID-19.  (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Public Health Agency of Canada said that from Feb. 22 to April 18, it received 50,905 test results from land travellers on the day they arrived in Canada. Of those, 128 — or 0.25 per cent of the total — tested positive for COVID-19. (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today his government is open to stricter penalties for travellers who violate the mandatory quarantine period.

The PM also appeared to swat away Ontario Premier Doug Ford's call for stronger restrictions at the land border, arguing the measures now in place are working.

"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 on that," Trudeau told a media briefing in Ottawa today.

"We know that importation through the borders is extremely low in terms of cases in the country."

Last night, Ford's government sent Trudeau a letter asking that quarantine measures at the country's airports be extended to the land border with the United States.

"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," Ontario Deputy Premier Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in the letter, which was sent following a call between Trudeau and all the premiers.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told CBC News Network's Power & Politics Thursday that all of the premiers got behind Ford's call for quarantine restrictions at the land border.

When asked about the request, Trudeau defended his government's isolation and testing rules for travellers entering the country, including mandatory polymerase chain (PCR) reaction tests and a 14-day isolation period.

"We had conversations around a range of issues that we can move forward on last night, but one of the things to remember first and foremost on international travel, and people arriving in Canada, is it's been well over a year that we actually shut down over 95 per cent of all travel to Canada," said Trudeau.

"At the same time we have seen that this third wave is very much around community transmission and that's why we are sending supports, we're there with more contact tracers, with more rapid tests, for enhanced screening, we're delivering vaccines, we're there to support the provinces as necessary while we're going through this this third wave."

Trudeau's assurances are unlikely to satisfy the Ontario premier.

"I will not let this issue go because too much is at stake," Ford said at his own news conference Friday, where he continued to bang the drum for tougher measures.

"Last week, the new Indian variant was reported here in Ontario and it didn't swim here. I can tell you that. In fact, we learned yesterday that 90 per cent of average daily cases this week are variants of concern, the same variants that fuelled our devastating third wave. And they got in because of weak border measures."

Hotel measure added in February

In late February, the federal government implemented new quarantine measures at airports that require all air travellers returning from non-essential trips abroad to isolate in federally-designated facilities for up to 72 hours while they await the results of a PCR test for COVID-19.

The fine for refusing to go to a hotel is $3,000.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press briefing on April 28, 2021.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press briefing on April 28, 2021.(Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

People arriving at land borders were required to take a COVID-19 test when they enter the country and then again after they have isolated themselves at home for 14 days.

Seizing on the loophole, some Canadians have admitted to flying into cities near the U.S.-Canada border and crossing by foot, taxi or limousine to return home in order to avoid the hotel bill.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said the vast majority of travellers are following the mandatory quarantine laws.

PHAC said that since March 2020, when the mandatory isolation order was first issued, Canadian police have followed up with more than 80,000 travellers and 98 per cent have been found to be in compliance.

PHAC said it was aware of police issuing 801 contravention tickets between March 2020 and April 19, 2021.

Those charged face penalties of up to six months in jail and/or fines of up to $750,000.

PHAC said that from Feb. 22 to April 18, it received 50,905 test results from land travellers on the day they arrived in Canada. Of those, 128 — or 0.25 per cent of the total — tested positive for COVID-19.

During the same period, the agency said, PHAC received 144,177 test results from air travellers; 2,541 of them — or 1.76 per cent of the total — were positive for COVID-19.

Trudeau said the government will work with Ontario to formalize its request to suspend the arrival of international students — another pitch from Ford.

"Because at this time Ontario is the only province requesting this, we're happy to work more narrowly with them," he said.