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Mandatory 14-day quarantines to apply to returning travellers

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Mar 26th, 2020

The federal government will start enforcing 14-day quarantines on travellers returning to Canada to try to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says “mandatory isolation” is needed to flatten the curve of the growth of the novel coronavirus in Canada.

The formal quarantines, which take effect at midnight tonight, come with the potential for fines or even arrests for people violating them.

“Canadians are great and people have been making real personal sacrifices,” Freeland told a news conference. “At the same time, all of us are going to be and feel safer with mandatory quarantines for anyone entering Canada.”

International travel – initially from China, then Iran and South Korea, then Europe and now the United States _ has continued to be a significant vector for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

And Canada’s border with the U.S., while closed to non-essential travel, is still open to trade and commerce, as well as travel for cross-border workers or students with visas.

Freeland says those essential workers who are permitted to cross the Canada-U.S. border will not be subject to the mandatory quarantine.

“We need to be really thoughtful about what we do there,” she said, citing the vital flow of goods and medical equipment and supplies that enter the country by truck from the U.S.

“We need to be thoughtful about how the people who provide those essential services, including cross-border trade, are treated.”

The World Health Organization has warned that the U.S. is becoming the new epicentre of the global pandemic as the spread of COVID-19 continues to accelerate, particularly in and around New York, which is urging recent visitors to self-isolate at home.

Ontario health officials reported Tuesday that nearly 20 per cent of its active cases were the result of travel in the U.S.

Asked about the possibility of more stringent screening measures at the border, Freeland called the situation “fluid and evolving” and said federal officials are monitoring the situation around the world “by the hour.”

“We are always reviewing additional measures, including measures at the border.”

However, the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said police are on murky legal ground, even though dealing with a global pandemic can call for extraordinary measures.

“If it’s a measure of last resort and the police exercise their discretion in a way that puts public health first … then there is legal authorization to do this,” said Michael Bryant, the association’s executive director.

But Bryant said there are important constitutional issues to consider, and putting someone in jail is not necessarily the best approach.

“It’s not clear to me that a quarantine order for travel outside of a province is constitutional,” he said in an interview.

“Any travel order than restricts people’s travel from province to province, arguably, could run afoul of our constitutional rights to mobility. This may be an opportunity to test this particular Newfoundland law that clearly restricts mobility rights.”

Meanwhile, a woman was arrested in Newfoundland on Tuesday for violating public health emergency orders enacted by the provincial government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Const. James Cadigan says The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary responded to complaints that a woman in Corner Brook had arrived in the province and was not self-isolating for 14 days.

He says officers spoke with her about the measures and later made an arrest due to non-compliance or orders issued under the province’s Public Health Protection and Promotion Act.

She was held in custody overnight to appear in provincial court this morning.

Individuals breaching the orders could be fined between $500 and $2,500 and could face jail sentences of up to six months.

In Quebec City, police arrested a woman last week who they say was infected with the virus and was walking outside after being ordered to stay indoors.

The arrest marked the first time Quebec City’s public health director issued an order to police under emergency powers granted after Premier Francois Legault declared a public health emergency March 14.

“When it became obvious we had to act, we acted,” Mathieu Boivin, spokesman for Quebec City’s regional health authority, said last week.

Legault has said the health emergency gives the police “all sorts of powers” to enforce his directives. Quebec also announced fines of at least $1,000 against anyone ignoring directives that prohibit gatherings.

Last Sunday, Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency to deal with the pandemic and immediately enacted new restrictions and penalties under the province’s Health Protection Act.

People in Nova Scotia are prohibited from gathering in groups larger than five. Individuals caught violating the limit face a $1,000 fine, and businesses allowing large groups to gather face a $7,500 fine.

On Monday, Prince Edward Island and the City of Vancouver also introduced new penalties for anyone caught violating public health directives.

P.E.I. Justice Minister Bloyce Thompson said there would be a fine of $1,000 for a first offence, $2,000 for a second offence and $10,000 for any subsequent offences.

Vancouver city council voted unanimously to permit fines as high as $50,000 against businesses that don’t adhere to social distancing measures and up to $1,000 for individuals.

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