Earlier this month, the federal government took an unprecedented step in the fight against COVID-19 and began enforcing the Quarantine Act.

A relatively mysterious piece of legislation, the Quarantine Act is rarely – if ever – referred to or used by our government authorities. At this point, however, public officials have decided to begin enforcing the Act in the battle against COVID-19. According to elected officials, the Quarantine Act has what it takes to help minimize the impacts of the pandemic on our population and to stop the spread of the virus.

So, what is this document and – more importantly – what can we expect?

I’m here to answer your biggest questions about the Quarantine Act.

(1) What Is the Quarantine Act?

The main objective of the Quarantine Act is to contain the spread of communicable disease through screening, health assessments, medical testing, and quarantining.

In order to do this, it grants law enforcement agencies increased power and flexibility in issuing penalties to those who fail or refuse to comply with orders issued under it. Passed in 2005, following the SARS epidemic, the Quarantine Act has been blissfully unneeded
up until now.

(2) Who does the Quarantine Act apply to?

The Act applies to travellers. Those entering and departing from Canada are subject to it.

(3) What kind of powers will police have under the Quarantine Act?

As any process aimed at halting the spread of a virus is an integrate one, with many moving parts, the Quarantine Act provides peace officers with wide-ranging powers in order to exercise their duties and ensure compliance. The Quarantine Act allows officers to ask relevant questions in order to determine whether
they pose a risk with respect to a communicable disease and to provide the officer with any information or record in their possession that they officer may require. If a travel has a reason to believe they may be sick or have a communicable disease, they have a positive obligation to disclose this to a quarantine officer and they must also comply with screening measures. Refusing to answer questions or undergo a health test may result in an arrest. Under the Quarantine Act, peace officers have vast powers to ensure compliance, including the ability to arrest travellers without a warrant.

(4) When can an officer make an arrest under the Quarantine Act?

In order to arrest, a peace officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the person has committed an offence under the Quarantine Act itself, such as refusing to comply with an isolation order for example. Again, this “reasonable grounds test” echoes legal principles that have been long-established by our criminal laws, both in terms of legislation and case law. So, it really isn’t all that foreign to us and should be something that both authority figures and our court systems are familiar with handling.

(5) What kind of penalties will people face if they breach the Quarantine Act?

While some offences under the Quarantine Act may result in tickets with more minor monetary fines ranging from $275 to $1000, others carry a much greater jeopardy. More serious offences can result in charges under the Criminal Code and criminal penalties, including a criminal record and even jail time. Others still include much more extreme options for enforcement, including fines of up to $1,000,000 and three years behind bars. The most severe punishments, however, are reserve for the most severe crimes.
Under the Quarantine Act, the maximum penalty applies to circumstances where a person caused a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another through wilful or reckless contravention of the Act itself.
With any luck, cases like these will be very few and far between.

(6) Is the Quarantine Act actually being enforced right now?

While it is up to each province to actually follow through with its enforcement, the Quarantine Act has being applied in British Columbia. Police in this province have already made over 500 home visits in order to ensure compliance with self-isolation orders under the Quarantine Act for travellers who have recently returned to Canada from abroad – and we can only expect more in the future. This is no surprise for a province that houses four international airports and numerous land border crossings.

(7) So, what can travellers expect?

Travelers entering B.C. at through either Vancouver International Airport or at any land border crossing are expected to fill out a detailed self-isolation form and to verbally present their self-isolation plans to authorities for approval before moving forward.

(8) What are the implications of enforcing the Quarantine Act?

Travellers should have adequate arrangements to self-isolate for the statutorily prescribed period of fourteen-days. If they are unable to do so, arrangements must be made in order to ensure that they do. As of right now, hotels are being made available – but we can’t expect these types of accommodations to last forever without considerable expense to individual travellers or taxpayers.

Once we’ve curbed community-based COVID-19 transmissions, the Quarantine Act will help to ensure that our safety has not threatened by travellers, who may risk unintentionally re-introducing the virus without proper precautions in place. It may allow us to lift travel restrictions and to resume life closer to normal again. But any great result must be accompanied by great restraint. It is important that, as our officials continue to apply the Quarantine Act, they do so prudently and uniformly. Not only must each territory and province must ensure fluent compliance if all Canadians are to be protected, but they must also ensure that practices and policies are applied in a sparing and non-discriminatory manner. After all, our future depends on it.

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