Canadian Public Health Agency looking at ways to increase enforcement of quarantine and public health orders across Canada

On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts had a meeting to discuss the Public Health Agency report on the “enforcement of quarantine and covid-19 testing orders”.

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The meeting was primarily about the policies on “border control measures that were used to limit the spread of COVID-19”, Auditor General Karen Hogan said.

Hogan said that collecting travelers contact information increased the government’s ability to ensure compliance with quarantine rules, but that it was not enough to ensure all travelers adhered to quarantine rules.  

Additionally, Hogan said that ticketing of people not in compliance with quarantine rules was not done equally across all provinces.

The Quarantine Act was enacted on March 26, 2020, in response to the rise in COVID-19 globally. The Act created fines ranging from $100 to $1000 for individuals in breach of the Quarantine Act. 

During the committee, NDP MP Blake Desjardlais said that Alberta did not enforce and ticket enough people for non-compliance of the Quarantine Act and the Contraventions Act. 

Adding that the lack of ticketing in Alberta creates “a massive gap in our ability to enforce public health measures and leaves Albertans more vulnerable to new variants”.

Citing that Alberta fined $0 related to non-compliance in travel-related compliance compared to other provinces.

In response, Auditor General Karen Hogan said the inability of “national enforcement of quarantine measures across the country” with some provinces not enforcing and ticketing individuals for non-compliance of the Quarantine Act “is something that needs to be improved to deal with better planning for another health crisis should one occur,”. 

In the report from the auditor general about “enforcement of quarantine and covid-19 testing orders”, they recommended that “the agency should improve its capability to achieve a consistent enforcement approach to border measures nationwide. Including exploring other tools that could be used in all Canadian jurisdictions”, Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos said. 

Given this report, Jennifer Lutfallah, vice president of health security, says that they are “looking at mechanisms on how we can enhance our capability of enforcement which by that I mean ticketing or some other type of monetary mechanisms to ensure compliance.”

However, Lutfallah said that they are only “in the initial discussion phases,” but that they are “assessing all possible options with respect to enforcement,”. 

Additionally, the President of the Public Health Agency of Canada Harpreet Kochhar says they are looking at ways to have more “tools” and “exploring the other options” to enforce quarantine rules when situations arise like in Alberta with the lack of enforcement of fines in quarantine non-compliance situations.

With respect to enforcement, Jennifer Lutfallah says the Public Health Agency is “assessing all possible options”. 

Conservative MP Philip Lawrence pressed the President of the Public Health Agency of Canada Harpreet Kochhar on whether incarceration would be used as an option for non-compliance of quarantine measures.

The President of the Public Health Agency of Canada Harpreet Kochhar responded that “no, we haven’t discussed any of this yet”. Jennifer Lutfallah added that incarceration is not being considered “at this point in time”.

Concerned with other aspects of the Quarantine Act and the scoop of the audit, Conservative MP Philip Lawrence asked Auditor General Karen Hogan why the audit on the enforcement of the quarantine act did not look into “civil liberties violations” in quarantine hotels and compliance officers. 

MP Lawrence cited people not receiving food in government quarantine facilities and numerous reports of sexual assault in the facilities and by compliance officers going door-to-door. 

Pushing back further on this issue, Conservative MP Eric Duncan asked for further clarification if the government would look more into the effectiveness of quarantine measures and the reports of sexual assault due to the quarantine measures in quarantine facilities and by compliance officers going door-to-door.

Auditor General Karen Hogan said they would not be looking further into these issues with these programs created under the Quarantine Act.

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