Sask. families decry 'obscene' mandatory hotel quarantines separating them from loved ones

·3 min read
Allison Mejia's sister and brother-in-law, on the right, visited Mejia's family in the U.K. four years ago. It was the last time Mejia would see her sister. (Submitted by Allison Mejia - image credit)
Allison Mejia's sister and brother-in-law, on the right, visited Mejia's family in the U.K. four years ago. It was the last time Mejia would see her sister. (Submitted by Allison Mejia - image credit)

Allison Mejia got a dreadful phone call in the middle of the night in October 2020. Her sister had gone into cardiac arrest.

Mejia grew up in Regina but now resides near Cambridge, U.K., where her husband is in the military. Her mother and sisters live in Canada.

"My first instinct was to jump on a plane and come home," she said.

She didn't make the trip, grounded by the fear of potentially spreading COVID-19 to at-risk loved ones. When time-consuming and expensive hotel quarantines were mandated in January, her hopes of coming to Canada were completely stalled.

"It's kind of hellish, a logistical nightmare to go and start figuring this out," she said. "Flights alone are horrendous, but then you calculate flying in and doing this hotel quarantine... which is just atrocious. It's obscene."

Her sister was on life support for several days before dying.

"I get what the government is doing, they're trying to stop people from travelling. But at the same time, they need to keep up with current policies and procedures that everyone else is doing with the rollout of vaccines."

Faces of Advocacy tries to help reunite Canadian families to loved ones across borders.
Faces of Advocacy tries to help reunite Canadian families to loved ones across borders. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

'They'll continue to suffer'

Currently, anyone flying into Canada is required to book and pay for a three-night "hotel stopover" before arriving in Canada. Hotels set their own prices and stays can cost into the thousands.

Dr. David Edward-Ooi Poon is the founder of Faces of Advocacy, an organization campaigning to reunite families across borders. The group is part of a court challenge arguing against the constitutionality of mandatory hotel quarantines.

"There is a personal family unification angle. There's a political angle," Poon said.

"But most importantly, it's the suffering of families who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic that someone needs to stand up and speak for, or else they'll continue to suffer with the government who is not listening."

Poon points to the recommendations made by the federal government's COVID-19 testing and screening expert advisory panel. The panel has issued three reports since January 2021.

One of the panel's three broad principles includes the recommendation to discontinue government-authorized accommodations.

"We are pushing the government through a focused, co-ordinated campaign to accept the recommendations that they themselves asked for," Poon said. "We're not asking for anything beyond the scope of what's reasonable, and we are essentially building hope for a post-COVID world."

'No way we can afford it'

Kaitlynn Piprell is looking forward to that post-COVID world.

Piprell met her fiancé, who lives in England, online in 2015. The last time she saw him in person was in November 2019.

She was planning on flying to see him last June and he hoped to return with her to Canada, where they would get married. They cancelled their plans because of safety concerns, but by the time they had managed to apply for extended family exemptions, hotel quarantines were put in place and had eliminated their chances of being reunited.

"I don't work a very prestigious job, I'm only earning a few dollars above minimum wage. So to cover all of my bills and then to try to come up with this money to quarantine in a hotel ... There's just no way that we can meet each other while the hotels are in place," she said.

Kaitlynn Piprell visited her fiancé on a trip to England in June 2018.
Kaitlynn Piprell visited her fiancé on a trip to England in June 2018. (Kaitlynn Piprell)

Piprell described the situation as being very tough.

"Sometimes he's pulling all-nighters just to meet [online]. We operate on two very different schedules because of the time difference between us, so it's really hard to spend any time together."

Piprell said that she and her fiancé are holding off on making plans for now, as having to cancel would be too expensive and painful to bear.