Why quarantine hotel requirements are now heading to the courts

Why quarantine hotel requirements are now heading to the courts

Trudeau’s quarantine hotels have only been operating for a few weeks, but they are already facing serious legal challenges. The hotels are considered by civil libertarians and travellers alike to be one of the most poorly implemented and restrictive responses to COVID-19 brought by any level of government.

That’s why the quarantine hotel policy is now facing at least four constitutional challenges. Two in Alberta, one in Ontario and one in Quebec.

The first stage of the Ontario challenge will be heard Friday. It is brought by civil liberties advocacy organization the Canadian Constitution Foundation and five individual travellers.

The individuals involved in the Ontario case are incredibly sympathetic. They have recently travelled for end-of-life care of a parent or for a funeral, or are urgently seeking to leave Canada for a compassionate reason.

Take, for example, the case of TJ Radonjic. TJ has delayed travel to the United States where his wife lives. She requires surgery and assistance with basic tasks after sustaining a serious shoulder injury. TJ wants to travel to the U.S. to help her, but cannot afford the cost of the quarantine hotel.

Another traveller, Yann Le Heritte, has delayed travel to France where his mother – who is 92 years old and suffers from dementia – has just returned from the hospital with a serious lung infection. Yann is his mother’s legal guardian, and her likelihood of surviving the year is low. Another traveller, Will Forman, wants to go see his father, who has stage four lung cancer, in the United States.

For all of these people, the $2,000 cost of the quarantine hotels is a significant burden. For some, it is a complete barrier to travel.

There is no good rationale for the restrictions on these people, who deserve our help and compassion. Canadians have a right to enter their home country. They have the basic right to liberty, and to be free from arbitrary detention.

The federal government has itself acknowledged the need to accommodate compassionate travellers. There is an exemption for people who are outside of Canada and need to return to help a loved one in Canada with his or her medical needs, or to attend a funeral. However, these specific compassionate exemptions are only available for people entering Canada for compassionate reasons. They are not available for individuals who have left Canada for compassionate reasons and must now return.

One of the applicants in this case learned of the law’s hypocrisy the hard way. Cristina Teixeira left Canada to arrange and attend the funeral of her father in Portugal. She asked the government for a compassionate exemption from the expensive hotel quarantine requirement for her return to Canada and was denied. This makes no sense. There is no greater likelihood that Teixeira will transmit COVID upon returning from a funeral than if she is entering Canada to attend a funeral.

But the nonsensical nature of the quarantine hotels and the exemptions is no surprise. The federal Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, admitted that there is a lack of complete data to support the hotel quarantine requirement in her appearance at committee on March 10.

In the absence of data, the experience of other jurisdictions that have used hotel quarantine is instructive. For example, in Australia, a second wave of COVID was reported to have been triggered by hotel security, who contracted the virus from a guest and then introduced it into the community. Guest-to-guest transmission in Australia’s quarantine hotels has also been reported.

This is the risk Canada is running by requiring hotel quarantine. Individuals who have already stayed in these hotels have complained of an environment of “complete pandemonium,” with dozens of guests congregating in the lobby of a hotel with minimal to no social distancing and improper masking.

In the interest of both safety and justice, the federal government should repeal the quarantine hotel requirement. But until that happens, it will be up to the courts.

This article was originally published in the Toronto Sun.