As foreign COVID-19 variants spread more quickly early this year, the federal and provincial governments stepped up their restrictions on travel to make sure hospitals weren’t overwhelmed: International travellers were sent to quarantine hotels, and the borders of Quebec, Ontario and B.C. were closed to non-essential travel. But provinces are speeding up their rollouts of second vaccine doses in the hopes that, when more people are fully vaccinated, the restrictions can be relaxed this summer. Here’s what you need to know.
Canada’s latest travel rules
International arrivals: Who has to be tested
For new international arrivals at airports, federally mandated tests administered on site will decide how long you spend in quarantine and where (more on that later). Anyone entering at a land border crossing has to show a negative COVID-19 test result: While officials can’t stop Canadian citizens or permanent residents from entering, they can fine those who don’t show a negative test up to $3,000.
Airport COVID-19 tests will still be required in the first phase of relaxing the travel rules, but the post-test process will be different starting sometime in early July (more on that in the “quarantine hotels in Canada” section below).
Quarantine hotels in Canada
Since Feb. 22, anyone arriving in Canada from abroad has had to wait for the results of their airport test for up to three days at a supervised hotel that they’ll have to pay for in advance. Registered quarantine hotels have to be near the Montreal, Calgary, Toronto or Vancouver airports, the only places currently accepting international flights. Those who test negative will be able to go home and complete the rest of their 14-day quarantine there, but anyone who tests positive will stay put while health officials check whether they have an infectious variant.
Later this summer, fully vaccinated people will be allowed to skip the hotel and quarantine at home until the test results come in; then, if they test negative, they can come out of isolation immediately, rather than waiting for the rest of the 14 days. When the Trudeau government announced those changes on June 9, cabinet ministers didn’t give a firm start date, but said it’d likely be early July as long as cases kept dropping and vaccination rates kept rising as expected.
Interprovincial travel restrictions by province
- B.C.: Travellers can enter B.C. from the rest of Canada for essential reasons only, and once there, they don’t have to self-isolate. Read more about B.C.’s travel rules here.
- Prairies: Manitoba requires out-of-province arrivals to isolate for 14 days; Alberta and Saskatchewan do not, though Saskatchewan recommends self-monitoring for 14 days. Read more here about Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba’s travel rules.
- Ontario: Crossing the land borders with Manitoba and Quebec is restricted to essential travel only until at least June 16. Out-of-province arrivals don’t have to quarantine unless they have COVID-19 symptoms. Read more about Ontario’s travel rules here.
- Quebec: The Ontario and New Brunswick borders are closed to non-essential travel, though Quebeckers going through New Brunswick to get to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine can fill out a form to facilitate crossing New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Read more about Quebec’s travel rules here.
- Atlantic Canada: All travel from outside the region is restricted and requires advance registration and approval, though the “Atlantic bubble” is being re-established in June.
Domestic travel restrictions by province
- B.C.: British Columbia grouped its health regions into three zones – Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley and Northern/Interior – and barred people from travelling between them for non-essential reasons, an offence punishable by fines of up to $575. Recreational travel within one’s own region is allowed.
- Prairies: Manitoba doesn’t allow travel north of the 53rd parallel except for essential services. Alberta and Saskatchewan urge caution for people travelling within their provinces.
- Ontario: Regional travel isn’t restricted by the province, though First Nations may have their own rules for entry and quarantine.
- Quebec: The province restricts access to Nunavik and the Cree territory of James Bay.
- Atlantic Canada: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have sometimes restricted non-essential travel to certain cities or health regions when outbreaks are in progress there, but only temporarily.
What are the penalties for breaking the travel rules?
Federal law: Penalties under the Quarantine Act can go as high as $750,000 or six months in jail. Most fines issued in the first seven months of the pandemic were between $275 and $1,275, and 77 people were fined nationwide, according to Public Health Agency of Canada data obtained by the CBC in October.
Provincial law: Many of the fines issued by local police have to do with physical distancing and non-essential businesses, but travel-related offenses, such as lying to contact tracers about where you or your friends have been, can also get you in trouble. For instance, a couple in Whitby, Ont., that had the British COVID-19 variant were charged in January under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act for allegedly not telling authorities they had been in contact with a traveller from Britain. The allegations have not been tested in court.
What about the Emergencies Act?
The federal travel restrictions so far have relied on the Quarantine Act, which governs international entry points to Canada such as land borders, sea ports and airports. Limiting movement within Canada (over and above what provinces have done on their own) would have been a more drastic step: Section 6 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the right to “move and take up residence in any province,” and “to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province,” so to limit these rights, the federal Emergencies Act might have been needed. None of the Trudeau government’s new rules require this act, the never-before-used successor to the War Measures Act that Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, used to controversial effect in the October Crisis of 1970. If the Emergencies Act is invoked in the future, a public inquiry has to be called at least two months after the emergency ends.
On the pandemic
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Evan Annett, Marieke Walsh, Laura Stone, Patrick White and The Canadian Press
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