As Italy extends its widespread restrictions to include the closing of most shops, legal and public-health experts said this week that a similar order in Canada is unlikely.
The measures announced by the Italian government on Wednesday, which follow a national lockdown earlier this week in response to surging cases of the new coronavirus, have largely shut down the country’s economy.
Canada has issued travel advice to avoid non-essential trips to Italy because of the movement restrictions.
But Canadian scholars do not see it as probable that the federal government will follow Italy’s example.
Canada cannot apply what is known as the Quarantine Act, which gives the federal health minister sweeping powers to address disease, however it wants, said Steven Hoffman, the director of the Global Strategy Lab and a professor of global health, law and political science at York University.
Canada must apply the act in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Dr. Hoffman said.
He said the Quarantine Act, which was last updated in 2005, allows the federal minister of health to take steps including designating any site in Canada as a quarantine area and to require specific things of individuals.
For example, if a person was to come into the country, the act could allow the government to impose diagnostic testing on individuals and even require their medical treatment.
It also outlines powers to force people into quarantine and the application of steep punishments for breaking the order.
The federal government is facing political pressure from the opposition to consider using additional powers.
In Question Period on Tuesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu was asked by Conservative health critic Matt Jeneroux whether the government is prepared to expand “vigorous screening measures, mandatory quarantine and stopping incoming flights" from certain areas.
In response, Ms. Hajdu said the measures at the “border are targeted, based on evidence and done in a manner to protect the health and safety of Canadians."
Colleen Flood, professor at the University of Ottawa and a research chair in health law and policy, said Tuesday that untoward consequences can result from measures such as imposing travel bans on countries.
It might look like good politics, but taking such a step has to be thought through, she said, stressing the need to look at long-term effects for the population and the public.
There is concern that these types of measures can cause countries to avoid acknowledging they have a problem for fear of economic implications, Dr. Flood said.
She also echoed Dr. Hoffman’s point that the federal government has fairly extensive powers afforded to it under the Quarantine Act, as well as authority outlined under the Emergencies Act, but she said actions are subject to a test of whether those steps are reasonable and proportionate.
“If we aren’t seeing extensive community transmission, then arguably … we don’t need need to go that far,” Dr. Flood said.
Where the federal government should act, however, is to take steps to support the provinces and to ensure that there are no financial incentives for workers to avoid going into self-quarantine, she added.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $1.1-billion package of measures to respond to COVID-19, including waiving the mandatory one-week waiting period to access employment insurance benefits. In response, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that he is concerned many workers do not have benefits.
“I am calling on the Prime Minister and calling on the Liberal government to make sure those workers have a way to stay at home,” Mr. Singh said.
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