Trudeau’s quarantine hotels hurts those who need our help the most

Trudeau’s quarantine hotels hurts those who need our help the most

During a crisis, flailing governments need a scapegoat. And vacation travellers at Caribbean all-inclusives make a convenient political target for politicians looking to justify draconian measures like hastily announced $2,000 per person quarantine hotel stays.

This approach works because there is little public sympathy for people who jetted off to tropical locales while the rest of us freeze at home. Ontario’s former finance Minister Rod Phillips can attest to this.

But the reality is that many people who travelled during these perilous times are doing so for truly heart-wrenching reasons. And the federal government’s clumsy Friday announcement has left these travellers scrambling. The new quarantine measures will require travellers entering Canada to take a PCR test upon arrival, and then quarantine in a government contracted hotel for up to three days, at an estimated cost of over $2,000 per person. Once they receive a negative test result, they are required to self-isolate at home for 14 days. Travellers who test positive are taken to a different government facility to quarantine.

During the announcement of this new policy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Transportation Minister Omar Algahbra focused their talking points on stopping what they call “non-essential travel”. But days later, it still remains unclear what types of travellers will actually be excluded from the costly quarantine requirement. Minister Alghabra has said the list of exclusions will be extremely narrow.

This has caused panic among thousands of Canadians who are currently abroad. I know there is a panic, because as the Litigation Director for a legal charity that advocates for the fundamental rights of Canadians, hundreds of them have reached out to me in desperation.

I have heard from surgery patients who have travelled to the U.S. at great expense to obtain treatment that is unavailable in Canada, either because it is so specialized or because it has been delayed in Canada. I have heard from the parents of children with severe anaphylaxis who require regular specialized treatment, which is only available at a cutting-edge hospital in California.

It is unlikely that a government quarantine facility will adequately meet the needs of individuals recovering from surgery or chemotherapy, or that it can accommodate highly specialized diets. These individuals must be permitted to quarantine at home. But because the government announced the blanket policy without announcing the exclusions, thousands of Canadians are left in a bind. How do you decide what to do when obtaining potentially life-saving therapy for your child requires exposing that child to a potentially life-ending government quarantine facility?

Aside from individuals who travel for their own medical treatment, many other Canadians travel to care for others. For example, I have heard from those who have travelled for funerals of family members, or to care for ailing loved ones. These include individuals in cross border relationships. I heard from a woman who experienced a miscarriage alone in her home while her American fiancé was in the United States. The cost of him coming to comfort her is now an additional $2,000. Cross border relationships are not uncommon, but now come with an enormous and punitive price-tag. It is unclear whether these individuals will be exempt from the government quarantine hotel requirement.

It is irresponsible for the government to release this quarantine policy without clarifying the details, especially when the policy has a dramatic impact on our most fundamental freedoms. Canadians have a Charter protected right to enter, remain in, and leave Canada. We have a right to liberty, to move about freely without obstruction. And we have a right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. We also have a right to equal benefit and protection of the law.

The new federal quarantine policy violates all these fundamental rights. Whether these limits to our rights can be justified will depend on the exact details of the order. But while we await those details, remember that while it may feel good to extract some petty vengeance on sun-seekers, the real impact of this policy is hardest on those who can bear it the least.

Christine Van Geyn is the Litigation Director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a legal charity that advocates for the constitutional rights of Canadians in the courts of law and public option.

This article was originally published in the National Post.