hotel quarantine

A group of Toronto lawyers is challenging Canada's hotel quarantine rule for travellers

The spate of new measures introduced by the federal government at Canadian borders earlier in 2021 has proven to be a hassle for incoming passengers — which indeed may have been the point of them, though Prime Minister Trudeau insists that he isn't trying to punish those who still choose to embark on international travel.

Of primary concern has been the mandatory quarantine hotel stay while new arrivals await the results of a COVID-19 test they have to take upon landing in the country.

Between the mess of a booking process, the thousands of dollars people have had to pay for the one-to-three day stay, and the subpar conditions in the accommodations, it hasn't seemed like a pleasant ordeal — though many of those who have abided orders to stay at home have had a bit of trouble sympathizing.

But, it's not just people going on beachy vacations in lesser  locked-down locales that are being made to heed these new, somewhat heavy-handed measures; it's also people who had to leave the country for things like funerals of family members, or to take care of a sick loved one.

And, in support of these particular cases, a group of lawyers in Toronto is arguing that the hotel quarantine is a violation of the rights and freedoms of Canadians, and they're launching litigation on behalf of five clients who've had to or will soon have to leave the country for compassionate reasons.

"We think that this is the biggest assault on Canadian liberties in a generation," says Joanna Baron, the executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), the registered charity behind the legal action.

"We think the laws as drafted are bizarre in that they allow exemptions for individuals who have to enter Canada for compassionate reasons — for example, to care for a family member — but there's not an exemption for Canadians who have to leave the country for the same reason."

According to the CCF, the new guidelines violate multiple sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including ones pertaining to the right to enter, leave and remain in Canada; the right to life, liberty and security of the person; the right to be free from arbitrary detention; and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

There is also the fact that people are being made to pay ridiculously high rates and cover the full expense of a three-day stay even if their COVID-19 test results come in early. 

One woman who is part of the legal challenge now-famously paid a staggering $3,458 for a single night's stay at an approved hotel in Toronto after returning from her father's funeral in Portugal.

"The law is just grossly disproportionate. We certainly support reasonable public health measures, but at this point, only about 1.7 per cent of COVID cases in Canada are due to travel," Baron says. "Individuals must be permitted to quarantine in their own homes."

There is also the question as to why the government decided to implement these rules more than a year after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Canada, and many months after a U.S. border "closure" that didn't at all inhibit movement of people flying from Canada.

"We're at a point in this pandemic when the rest of the world is starting to open up, so Canada is just terribly out of step by bringing in by far the most Draconian rule more than a year into the game. It's utterly puzzling and the government has to be held accountable for it."

The application for the injunction motion in the case will be heard within a few weeks, while the full Zoom hearing on the constitutionality of the rules will take place in a few months.

The CCF has also started a petition against the new quarantine rules, which were officially brought into action on Feb. 22 following Ottawa's move to require a negative COVID-19 test before departing for Canada, another mandatory test upon arrival, the suspension of flights to sun destinations, and the restriction of international flights to four airports.

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