A legal advocacy group is asking a court to shut down Canada’s hotel-quarantine policy, saying it is arbitrary because people could safely isolate at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Canadian Constitution Foundation asked the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in a filing on Monday to halt the federal quarantine policy immediately.
The group is joined in its legal action by five Canadians – threee from British Columbia, one from Ontario and one from Quebec – who either need to leave the country to be with ill or injured family members, or have just returned from doing so. For instance, a B.C. man with a cross-border marriage wishes to leave to help his wife, disabled by an injury, prepare for surgery.
No date has been scheduled yet for a hearing.
A little more than two weeks ago, Ottawa began requiring every person who enters the country by air to show proof of prepaid accommodation for three days at a government-approved location before boarding their flight. Once at their hotel, they need to test negative for the coronavirus before leaving, and then to complete their 14-day quarantine at home. The three-day stay can cost upwards of $2,000, the foundation says, describing that amount as punitively high for single-earner families such as that of the B.C. man who hopes to be with his wife in the United States.
“It’s bizarre to me, and cruel, that the government would not show compassion to these individuals who are required to travel to help their ailing loved ones,” Christine Van Geyn, the foundation’s litigation director, said in an interview.
And yet, she said, the government quarantine rules allow entry for compassionate reasons in the reverse situation (where the ill person is in Canada), without the three-day hotel stay.
The foundation is seeking $10,000 in damages for the rights violations, which would pay the $2,000 cost for each of the five travellers.
A Health Canada spokesman said the government intends to respond to the court action, and has no further comment. Health Canada’s website said travellers are not permitted to quarantine at home to limit the possible exposure of others to COVID-19. The website warns against non-essential travel outside Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the tighter border controls are intended to keep everyone safe, not punish travellers. Anyone who violates the quarantine order is subject to fines of up to $3,000 a day. They could also be charged with violating instructions on entering Canada, and subject to a maximum of six months in jail and $750,000 in fines.
The foundation is claiming a violation of several Charter rights: Section 6, which protects Canadians’ right to enter and leave Canada; Section 7, the right to liberty; Section 9, the right not to be arbitrarily detained; and Section 12, the right to be free from cruel and unusual treatment.
It says it will present evidence from a traveller that there was a 23-hour wait for food.
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