POLITICS
08/06/2020 11:38 EDT | Updated 08/10/2020 12:10 EDT

How Are Travellers To Canada Tracked By Quarantine Rules? An Inside Look At The Numbers

Violating the Quarantine Act can lead to jail time and fines up to $750,000.

Rob Gurdebeke/CP
Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-U.S. border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on March 21, 2020. country.

OTTAWA — At least 22 tickets — for fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 — have been levied on travellers not respecting the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon their return to Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada says.

In response to questions from HuffPost Canada, the agency said that as of July 29, nine people in British Columbia and 13 in Ontario had been fined for offences under the Quarantine Act. Thirty-nine verbal warnings were also given to residents of at least seven provinces, and eight written warnings were issued to residents in Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Since the end of March, travellers coming into Canada must provide their contact information to border officials and show they have a quarantine plan: a place to go and the ability to fulfil 14 days of self-isolation. Those with no place to safely isolate can be sent to a federal quarantine facility to wait out the mandatory two-week period.

Watch: Fines, arrests possible for quarantine rule breakers, PM says

 

Then it is up to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to verify that people are respecting the law. For most, it begins with a phone call.

Designated screening officers start calling incoming travellers on the fifth day of their isolation period, and attempts continue for three consecutive days. 

Most people, from what I’ve seen from the data that’s come in, have been very good in terms of compliance,” deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo told reporters on July 14. “They accept the calls. They recognize we’re doing it not to badger or hound them but as a gentle reminder to continue doing what’s in their best interest in terms of their health but also to protect others.”

Despite the live calls, and emails sent on the fourth, eighth and 11th days of a traveller’s quarantine period, and recorded phone messages also sent on the eighth and 11th days with reminders and suggestions on how to maintain compliance with the law, some people still aren’t respecting the rules.

As of July 28, PHAC had referred 42,763 cases to the RCMP for follow-up. That is nearly double the number it had referred to the Mounties — 21,422 from March 25 to July 9 — just three weeks earlier.

And that number doesn’t include all travellers. 

As of July 26, PHAC said it managed to make live calls to only 222,783 people out of the 433,275 incoming travellers subject to quarantine requirements since March 25.

When travellers can’t be reached or show signs of non-compliance based on their answers to a series of questions, their cases are flagged daily to the Mounties. Then the RCMP’s national operations centre coordinates with provincial law enforcement to ensure that local police physically verify people are remaining in their dwelling.

The Mounties and PHAC say they focus on “education and encouragement” and that the measures are “not intended to be punitive.”

RCMP officers will attempt to conduct physical verification with the individual while maintaining physical distancing,” spokeswoman Catherine Fortin said in an email statement. “Our officers will speak to the person, inform them of the law and explain the importance of compliance, as well as the potential consequences of non-compliance.”

According to an order issued under the Quarantine Act in March, unless specifically exempted, any person entering Canada must go into isolation for 14 days and monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. 

Failure to comply with the order could lead to up to $750,000 in fines, and/or imprisonment for up to six months. If an incoming traveller causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while wilfully or recklessly contravening the law, they could be liable for up to $1,000,000 in fines, or imprisonment of up to three years or both.

The order was most recently extended until Aug. 31.

Don’t just pay attention to tickets, PHAC says

The Mounties were unable to tell HuffPost how many cases were acted upon after being flagged. There was “some kind of complication in getting the [July] data,” spokeswoman Robin Percival said this week.

At the end of June, the RCMP said it had received requests for physical verification checks on 1,492 “priority individuals” but said no fines or tickets had been issued to these people.

While the RCMP asks its policing divisions to track enforcement related to the Quarantine Act, there is no obligation for law enforcement agencies to communicate to PHAC the result of their interactions with those suspected of breaking the law. It’s possible there have been more tickets issued. The provinces and the territories are also charged with enforcing their own quarantine measures.

Maryse Durette, a spokeswoman for PHAC, told HuffPost that the effectiveness of the quarantine measures can’t be judged by how many tickets have been issued.  

Evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach is the fact that travel-introduced cases have dropped to a small number, suggesting a high level of compliance of travellers,” she said.

Back in July, Njoo said there was “no evidence of travel-associated cases” and that the focus was now on dealing with community transmission in Canada. He warned young people, especially, to avoid crowded bars and places where alcohol is served. 

“As we all know, after one or two drinks people might feel less inhibited. If you go in with good intentions in terms of wearing your mask and social distancing, who knows after one or two drinks if that might change,” he said.

This week, Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, said “very few of our cases actually come from travellers at the moment.” She added the government had not received any reported cases of transmission in planes. 

After border measures were adopted in March — closing the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel and measures banning most foreign nationals from coming to Canada — the number of travellers coming into the country dropped sharply. 

The Canada Border Services Agency reported that last week, from July 27 to Aug. 2, the number of people crossing by land was down 89 per cent compared with 2019, and the number of travellers flying into Canada was down 94 per cent from last year. 

Approximately 400 new cases of COVID-19 are now reported daily across the country, Tam said Wednesday, noting that about 48,000 people are tested each day with one per cent testing positive. As of Aug. 5, there have been 117,792 cases reported in Canada, with 8,958 people dying. Tam said 87 per cent of people affected by the disease have recovered. 

Who is getting warned they might be breaking the law?

  • 22 tickets have been reported to PHAC, which were issued under the Contraventions Regulations for offences under the Quarantine Act (9 in British Columbia and 13 in Ontario).
  • 39 verbal warnings (5 in AB; 11 in BC; 2 in MB; 4 in NB; 1 in NL; 13 in ON; 2 in QC; and 1 where the jurisdiction has not been identified) 
  • 8 written warnings (1 in AB; 2 in BC; 1 in MB; 1 in NB; 1 in NS; 2 in ON) were reported to have been issued for offences under the Quarantine Act.
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