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Travellers must show ‘credible’ self-isolation plans; Ottawa expands ticketing to COVID-19 offences

Tuesday, April 14, 2020 @ 5:12 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Ottawa is amping up existing self-isolation requirements for all travellers entering Canada, while also expanding its Contraventions Act ticketing regime to apply to 10 broadly worded Quarantine Act offences related to travel.

On April 14, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that, as of midnight, everyone entering Canada, whether by land, air or sea — whether they have symptoms of COVID-19 or not — must demonstrate that they have a “credible plan” for complying with the existing federal requirement to self-isolate for 14 days.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

“If you’ve come back to Canada from abroad, as of today, we are strengthening measures,” Trudeau told reporters. “Now, if asymptomatic travellers cannot explain a credible quarantine plan, they will be required to quarantine in a hotel.”

(Notably, Trudeau also mentioned he will “soon” announce “new supports on commercial rent for businesses that are hardest hit” and will also announce measures to enhance the previously announced Canada Emergency Business Account, which is an interest-free loan of up to $40,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits hit by the economic fallout from COVID-19.)

In a briefing after the prime minister spoke, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland explained that the new mandatory rules on self-isolation, pursuant to an updated order under the federal Quarantine Act, “are an additional layer in Canada’s actions to protect the health of all Canadians.”

“Any traveller arriving in Canada, whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic, is forbidden to isolate in a place where they would be in contact with people who are vulnerable, such as adults of 65 years of age or older, and people of all ages with pre-existing medical conditions,” she explained. “Upon arrival travellers will also need to confirm that they have a suitable place to isolate, where they will have access to basic necessities such as food and medicine, and will not come into contact with vulnerable people.”

Freeland stressed, “travellers arriving into Canada need to make plans in advance for where they will isolate or quarantine. Any traveller who does not have an adequate place in which to isolate or quarantine themselves must go to a place designated by the chief public health officer of Canada. This includes, for example, a hotel.”

The Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, clarified (in French) “the federal government will be paying accommodation costs, if we have to quarantine someone in one of our locations under the Quarantine Act.”

The federal Quarantine Act applies to persons arriving in, or departing from, Canada. It provides for the screening, health assessment and medical examination of travellers to determine whether they have a communicable disease, and to prevent the introduction and spread of such disease.

Justice Minister David Lametti

In another federal move the same day, Justice Minister David Lametti announced that the government has registered, under s. 8 of the Contraventions Act, the Regulations Amending the Contraventions Regulations (Quarantine Act), SOR/2020-86 April 11, 2020.

“During these exceptional times, the health and safety of Canadians is of the utmost importance,” Lametti said in a statement. “These changes will provide an additional tool for enforcement authorities to protect public health by ensuring compliance with the federal Quarantine Act.”

According to a government backgrounder, offences under the Quarantine Act and several emergency orders made under s.58 of that Act, can lead to tickets for adults with fines that range from $275 to $1,000, based on the seriousness of the conduct.

The fine amount for contraventions by persons ages 12 to 17 is up to $100. (In order to set distinct fine amounts for young persons, a provision was added to the Contraventions Regulations establishing the fine amount for young persons in respect of any contravention to be the lesser of $100 or the fine set out in Column III of the schedules for a particular contravention.)

The amendments designate as contraventions 10 offences under the Quarantine Act pertaining to obligations imposed on travellers, and on other persons, to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable disease, including the obligation to:

  • Present to a screening officer at the nearest entry point (s.12);
  • Answer relevant questions asked by a screening officer or quarantine officer or provide any required information or record (s. 15(1));
  • Disclose to a screening officer or quarantine officer that they may have a communicable disease or have recently been in close proximity to a person that has a communicable disease (s.15(2));
  • Comply with reasonable measures ordered by a screening officer or quarantine officer (s. 15(3));
  • Comply with an order from a quarantine officer to report to a public health authority (s.25(1));
  • Comply with an order regarding a treatment or any other measure for preventing the spread of the communicable disease (s. 26); and
  • Comply with an emergency order prohibiting, or subjecting to any condition, the entry of the traveller into Canada (s. 58).

The offences designated as contraventions also prohibit any person from:

  • Entering or leaving a quarantine facility without the authorization of a quarantine officer (ss.65(1) and (2)); and
  • Hindering, or willfully obstructing, a quarantine officer, a screening officer, or an environmental health officer, or making a false or misleading statement to the officer (s.66).

Under s. 65.1 of the Contraventions Act, the government also amended the Application of Provincial Laws Regulations to incorporate by reference the provincial ticketing schemes of Alberta and Saskatchewan, SOR/2020-87, April 11, 2020

The federal contraventions regime currently applies in eight provinces, but not in the territories, or in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Federal offences designated as contraventions can still be enforced in non-participating provincial jurisdictions — even if the provincial ticketing scheme has not yet been incorporated by reference into the federal regime, and a province has not agreed to participate. If so, police can use warnings, or prosecute the offences summarily under the Criminal Code. The “anticipatory” amendments to the regulations allow Alberta and Saskatchewan to use their provincial ticketing powers for Quarantine Act offences, if  they choose to do so by agreement with Ottawa, according to the federal government’s backgrounder.

The government says that using the Criminal Code summary procedure for federal contraventions is more time-consuming and costly for the offender, the government and the justice system, as it requires the offender to appear in court. “The Contraventions regime presents a more reasonable approach to enforce minor offences as an offender can choose to plead guilty and pay a fine without having to appear in court and without incurring a criminal record.”

The contraventions regime is administered by participating provinces on a cost-recovery basis and revenues generated under this regime will entirely cover provincial costs, the government says.

Njoo told reporters that, as of the morning of April 14, there were 26,631 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 823 deaths in Canada. More than 450,000 people had been tested for the virus, with six per cent testing positive.

Photo of Justice Minister David Lametti by Roy Grogan

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