More than 500 air passengers fined for defying hotel quarantine rules after landing in Vancouver and Toronto

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The federal government has doled out more than 500 fines to air passengers who refused to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in Canada. But there appears to be no evidence of any fines being issued to passengers who landed in Calgary and Montreal, two of four cities where international flights are currently allowed to land.

Police and workers wait for arrivals at the COVID-19 testing centre at Pearson airport in Toronto on Feb. 3. The Public Health Agency of Canada says it’s 'aware' of 513 tickets being issued to air passengers between Feb. 22 and April 25 who landed in Toronto or Vancouver and refused quarantine in a hotel. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The federal government has doled out hundreds of fines since Feb. 22 — typically for $3,000 each — to air passengers who refused to quarantine in a designated hotel upon arrival in Canada.

Even so, the government couldn't provide CBC News with a total number of people who've violated its rule that passengers entering Canada be tested for COVID-19, then quarantine in a hotel while waiting for their results.

And when CBC tried to track down the total number of hotel quarantine violators, it found no evidence of fines being issued to passengers who landed in Calgary or Montreal — two of the four cities, along with Vancouver and Toronto, where international flights are allowed to land during the pandemic.

500+ tickets to people who landed in Toronto and Vancouver

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told CBC News last week it was "aware" of 513 tickets being issued to air passengers who arrived in Toronto or Vancouver between Feb. 22 and April 25 and refused to go to a quarantine hotel. The agency said that in those cities, both PHAC officers and police can issue tickets.

PHAC said the rules are different in Calgary and Montreal, so to check with local authorities for statistics on tickets. CBC did and found no indication that any had been issued.

But that doesn't mean all travellers arriving in those two cities obeyed the rules. CBC News interviewed several passengers who said they recently landed in Montreal or Calgary, refused to quarantine in a hotel and have yet to be hit with a fine.

"I'm sure the [police] have better things to do," said snowbird Allan Prout of Yorkton, Sask., who flew to Calgary from Puerto Vallarta on April 26. "I mean there's real criminals out there. I'm not a criminal."

Snowbird Allan Prout, of Yorkton, Sask., said he refused to quarantine in a hotel after returning to Canada from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After his flight landed in Calgary, Prout said he felt he had a safe place to quarantine at home. (submitted by Allan Prout)

Prout said he refused to check into a quarantine hotel because of the price — up to $2,000 — and because he wanted to do his full 14-day quarantine at his house.

"I think I'm just as safe to get my ass home and sit here for two weeks," he said.

Prout said he was informed by a government official at the airport his name would be passed on to the RCMP, but that no one has issued him a fine, so far.

"No visit, no phone call, no nothing."

'It's my right'

The federal government's hotel quarantine requirement went into effect on Feb. 22 to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Passengers can leave the hotel and finish their 14-day quarantine at home when and if their COVID-19 test results come back negative. Those with positive results are relocated to another quarantine hotel.

Between Feb. 22 and April 23, 1.9 per cent of the 168,887 air passengers who took COVID-19 tests after entering Canada tested positive, said PHAC.

Synthia Vignola flew from Colombia to Montreal on March 21. This is a scene from a video she shot at the Montreal airport where she refused to quarantine in a hotel. (submitted by Synthia Vignola)

Synthia Vignola flew to Montreal from Colombia on March 21. Vignola said she refused to go to a quarantine hotel because she felt safer quarantining at her home in Sainte-Marthe, Que.

"I don't have any reason to go in the hotel with other people when I live in the country[side], alone," she said.

In a video Vignola shot at the Montreal airport, a man — whom she identified as a PHAC officer — told her in French that she'd receive a fine by mail for refusing to quarantine in a hotel.

Six weeks later, Vignola said her fine has yet to arrive.

"I'm not surprised," she said. "It's my right to go back in my country without any restriction."

Meanwhile, several passengers who landed in Vancouver and Toronto have reported they were immediately ticketed at the airport for refusing to quarantine in a hotel.

On April 2, Kent Saunders — a dual Canada-U.S. citizen living in Las Vegas — flew to Vancouver and said he informed a PHAC officer at the airport he was heading directly to a friend's place to quarantine.

The officer issued him a ticket for $3,450 ($3,000 plus added fees) at the airport.

"[The PHAC officer said] 'I think we'll write you a ticket,'" said Saunders. "Another 15 minutes she came back with a ticket and off I went."

PHAC responds

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an infectious diseases specialist in Vancouver, said the best way to enforce public health measures is to keep the rules simple and consistent.

"If you don't enforce it for everybody, then it becomes kind of a pointless program," Murthy said.

CBC News asked PHAC why its officers aren't ticketing hotel quarantine violators at the airports in Montreal and Calgary.

The agency responded that in Quebec and Alberta, quarantine-related fines fall under provincial jurisdiction, and told CBC News to check with provincial and municipal authorities for the number of fines issued.

In Alberta, RCMP and Calgary police each said they have issued no fines in connection with the hotel quarantine requirement.

Calgary police spokesperson Emma Poole said that because Alberta never adopted the federal Contraventions Act — which allows police to ticket people for federal offences — Calgary police can only investigate someone who refused to quarantine in a hotel if a PHAC officer launches a complaint.

"If someone is agreeable with PHAC and pleasantly leaves the airport without checking into their hotel and PHAC does not make a complaint, we are unable to act upon it," said Poole in an email.

In Quebec, fines are issued by provincial prosecutors, said PHAC.

However, Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions said it hasn't issued any fines related to the hotel quarantine requirement.

And Quebec's Ministry of Health told CBC News that the federal government, not the province, is responsible for enforcing Canada's travel rules.

When asked about the apparent lack of fines issued at the Montreal and Calgary airports, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded at a news conference on Tuesday that he hoped that data to the contrary does exist.

"We certainly hope that there will be greater access to data that can reassure people that those fines are, indeed, being applied and enforced everywhere across the country."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sophia Harris covers business and consumer news. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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