OTTAWA — Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the quarantine system is “broken” because federal health officers are not charging people ignoring self-isolation orders for COVID-19.
Since the end of March, an emergency order under the federal Quarantine Act has required most people arriving from outside Canada to isolate themselves for 14 days, even if they don’t have symptoms. While more than 2.5 million border-crossings have been recorded since then, only a fraction of crossers are ordered to quarantine, while the rest are exempt as essential workers, such as truck drivers, front-line health staff or airline crew.
Essential workers must not work with anyone over the age of 65 for at least two weeks, and must wear masks if they can’t physically distance from others.
If someone breaches a quarantine order, federal quarantine officers can lay charges with penalties of up to six months in jail and fines of $750,000, while police can issue tickets of up to $1,000.
Between March 25 and Sept. 3, police have been asked to check on the whereabouts of 87,338 people ordered to quarantine. Data provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada lists zero arrests for ignoring a quarantine order, one summons to appear in court, and 42 police-issued tickets.
However, Ford says Ontario police checks have uncovered 622 quarantine-order scofflaws and is frustrated about the lack of federal charges.
“The system is broken,” he said Wednesday. “I need the help from the federal government to make an amendment or change it. Why have our police go around and checking to see if people are quarantining if they aren’t going to follow up with a charge?”
A spokesman for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said police have to answer for why they aren’t issuing more tickets.
A statement issued by federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s office did not directly address the lack of charges of being laid.
“The rules are clear: those who contravene the mandatory requirements may be subject to a range of enforcement measures, from verbal and written warnings, to fines and arrest,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with the government of Ontario to protect Canadians.”
Specifically, federal data shows RCMP issued 27 tickets, the Ontario Provincial Police issued 14 tickets, Sarnia Police Service ticketed one person, and the Barrie Police Service ticketed three. In 35 cases, the fine was the maximum $1,000, while five $500 fines and two $275 fines were levied.
The OPP have at times publicized the tickets, including two seniors ticketed near Fort Frances, Ont., in July after crossing into Canada from Minnesota and stopping at stores after being told to go straight to their property and stay there for two weeks. Two other seniors were ticketed by the OPP in North Bay, Ont. on July 9, after arriving from Florida to go to their summer cottage and failing to quarantine for two weeks.
The Public Health Agency of Canada did not provide information about the one summons to appear in court.
The compliance system is in the hands of multiple agencies, with Canada Border Services Agency officers issuing the quarantine orders when people arrive at the border, and in that process identifying to the Public Health Agency of Canada people they believe to be at highest risk of ignoring the orders.
Health officers will use phone calls or emails to check in with those people. If health officers are concerned someone is ignoring an order, they will ask the RCMP to physically verify the compliance, and the RCMP either do the check or pass it on to a local police agency.
A statement from the RCMP in April said officers “will use a risk-based, measured approach to non-compliance, focusing on education and encouragement” and that arrests would be a measure of last resort.