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David Lametti

New mandatory quarantine for inbound travellers; Lametti certifies C-13 is Charter-compliant

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 @ 3:55 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Last Updated: Thursday, March 26, 2020 @ 9:21 AM

Hours before Ottawa announced a sweeping mandatory 14-day quarantine of travellers (except essential workers) arriving from abroad, effective midnight March 25, Justice Minister David Lametti gave his constitutional blessing to the federal government’s $107 billion COVID-19 financial relief legislation (Bill C-13).

On March 25, Lametti tabled a brief Charter statement in the Commons verifying that, in his view, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act is consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Justice Minister David Lametti

The property law professor, who is on leave from McGill University, states that most of Bill C-13 comprises emergency fiscal support measures — and financial authorities to enable Ottawa — to financially assist people and businesses “that have not been identified as engaging rights and freedoms protected by the Charter.”

But the Justice minister did identify a potential privacy concern in respect of s. 10 of the Act which stipulates, in relation to the temporary emergency income support payments for workers who suffer a loss of income due to COVID-19, that the minister of Employment and Social Development is empowered to require individuals to provide any information or documents the minister may require for any purpose related to verifying compliance, and preventing non-compliance, with the Act.

Lametti said authorizing the collection of information about individuals who are sick, or in quarantine, potentially engages s. 8 of the Charter, which guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure. However, he said that the consistency of s. 10 with the Charter is supported by the reality that such information “will only be collected for the limited administrative purpose of verifying information received when workers applied for the payments, as well as preventing non-compliance.”

“In these situations, privacy expectations are reduced,” Lametti opined. “As such, the proposed powers are similar to powers that have been upheld by the courts in the administrative and tax contexts.”

Without elaborating, or identifying which provisions he was referring to, Lametti also noted that “certain provisions in the bill which do not themselves engage rights or freedoms guaranteed by the Charter, grant the ability to make orders that may potentially engage the Charter. In these circumstances, the Charter requires that those making the order must balance the reason for making the order with its effects on rights or freedoms protected by the Charter.”

Later on March 25, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced at the daily federal briefing on COVID-19 in Ottawa, that the health minister will exercise her powers under the Quarantine Act to impose a 14-day mandatory period of isolation on all people entering Canada, with the exception of essential workers, starting at midnight, March 25.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters outside the Senate, which was reviewing Bill C-13, that inbound travellers will be given an order by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), in French or English, depending on their language of choice, telling them of the requirement to go into isolation, and not stop on the way to reaching their destination for self-isolation.

“We’re also ordering returning passengers that they cannot take public transit to return to their homes, so we’ll be facilitating transportation for people that don’t have private transportation options,” Hajdu amplified.

She said officials will also ensure that people who are living with vulnerable people, such as elderly people, or others who have increased susceptibility to COVID-19 infection, “have alternative places to stay, if that’s their only choice.”

Hajdu stressed that this applies to all travellers, not just those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19.

“All travellers that don’t have an opportunity to return [home] in a private vehicle, for example, will be provided transportation to their destination,” Hajdu announced. “For those travellers who are arriving at one of the four international airports [in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, which are receiving flights from abroad] and connecting, they will be asked to quarantine in place in those cities for 14 days,” Hajdu specified. “We will provide the accommodation and meals for those situations.”

Hajdu said there will be random screening and spot screening to ensure that people are obeying the quarantine orders to self-isolate.

“My officials are working with CBSA right now to ensure people know this will be serious, and there will be significant penalties if people violate the quarantine,” she warned.

Failure to comply with the Health minister’s order is an offence under the Quarantine Act. Maximum penalties include a fine of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for six months, a government press release said. Further, a person who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while wilfully or recklessly contravening Act or the regulations could be liable for a fine of up to $1 million or to imprisonment of up to three years, or to both, the government said.

Hajdu said travellers will be screened by the CBSA and will be provided information to take with them about the quarantine order, including the penalties for violation.

Asked whether buses or taxis will be used, Hajdu replied “there will be a variety of different methods, but likely buses that will be able to transport people. Again it will be depending on the situation and my officials are working through those details with CBSA right now.”

Hajdu said the government is also working on getting the requisite physical distancing into the airports, where crowds of people have been waiting in line much closer than the requisite two metres apart.

“That’s exactly what will be worked out today, is how we actually keep people safe as they travel through the airport,” she said. “There will be additional screening questions on kiosks as well, and … those details are being worked as we get ready for the midnight implementation.”

Hajdu said the government has contracted for accommodation with different hotels and facilities in the four cities where international flights are arriving. “And we have additional measures we can take if necessary,” she said, without elaborating.

The government said all individuals permitted to enter Canada are subject to the health minister’s order, with the exception of certain persons who cross the border regularly to ensure the continued flow of goods and services and those who provide essential services. “Individuals exempt from the order will still need to practise social distancing and self-monitoring and contact their local public health authority if they feel sick,” the backgrounder said.

The government specified that persons displaying symptoms of COVID-19 after arriving in Canada may not use public transportation to travel to their place of isolation. “They also may not isolate in a place where they will be in contact with vulnerable people, such as seniors and individuals with underlying health conditions,” the press release said.

Photo of Justice Minister David Lametti by Roy Grogan

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