Anu Khullar says she was shocked at how easy it was to be denied quarantine at a hotel after landing in Calgary on June 20 after a trip to Honduras.
She said she received no pushback and no penalty.
“There were two police officers standing there and they just smiled at me and said, ‘Hi,'” said Khullar, an Edmonton-based realtor who owns a home in Honduras.
“Got my stuff, got my car, went home, everything was great.”
Canada’s hotel quarantine requirement for international air travelers expired in August, but it is still sparking controversy. This is because more than 5,000 air travelers were fined for refusing to quarantine at a hotel, with no effect on others who violated the rule.
“This was not a program that was implemented fairly across the board,” said Kara Zwiebel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Fundamental Freedoms Program.
businesshala News has yet to confirm that any hotel quarantine fines have been issued to air travelers landing in Calgary or Montreal to date. They are just two of four cities – along with Vancouver and Toronto – where international travelers can disembark, while the hotel quarantine rule was in effect from February 22 to August 8.
The absence of fines issued in Calgary does not mean that all Calgary arrivals followed the rules. Seven passengers told businesshala News that they landed in the city, refused to quarantine at a hotel and did not receive any fines.
“It was very easy,” Khullar said.
Khullar said that she did not feel any need to quarantine in a hotel as she was fully vaccinated and she could do a complete 14-day quarantine in her empty house.
His original return flight to Canada was to land in Vancouver. But Khullar said he changed his arrival city to Calgary after reading several posts on social media of people arriving in Calgary, refusing to go to a quarantine hotel and not being fined.
“It was absolutely a joke,” Khullar said. “You can also say, ‘Okay everyone, just fly back to Alberta. You don’t have to worry about a single fine.'”
Who can issue fines in Calgary?
The federal government created its own hotel quarantine program to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The program required international air travelers to do part of their quarantine at a designated hotel while awaiting their post-arrival COVID-19 test results. Travelers had to pay hotel bills, which could be as high as $2,000.
The Public Health Agency of Canada posted records 5,315 fines were issued to air travelers who refused to quarantine at a hotel. They charge an additional fee of $3,000 to over $5,000.
Almost all fines were paid to passengers disembarking in Toronto (4,711) and Vancouver (601). The remaining three involved a Montreal arrival. However, PHAC clarified in a footnote that it is unknown whether fines were actually imposed in those three cases.
No fines were issued in Calgary.
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According to Statistics Canada, 434,210 non-essential air travelers entered Canada from March to June, the busiest month for the hotel quarantine program. Of that total, 225,809 landed in Toronto, 94,084 in Montreal, 80,722 in Vancouver and 33,595 in Calgary.
PHAC told businesshala News that its officers could not fine hotel quarantine violators in Alberta because the province never adopted a federal Violation Act. But the agency said police in Alberta could issue fines and suggested checking with police for updated statistics.
The Alberta RCMP and Calgary Police told businesshala News that they had not issued any such fines. in mayCalgary police said it was a challenge to fine hotel quarantine violators because they could investigate a case only after receiving a complaint.
Any fines in Quebec?
businesshala News also heard from five passengers who, who said they had landed in Montreal, refused to quarantine at a hotel and have yet to receive fines.
Cynthia Vignola flew from Colombia to Montreal on March 21. Vignola said she refused to go to a quarantine hotel because she felt safe at her home in Sainte-Marthe in Que.
Vignola said a federal government official at the airport told him he would receive the fine in the mail. After more than five months, no penalty has come, she said.
“I’m not surprised,” Vignola said. “Many people [broke the rules]. Nobody gets anything.”
PHAC said its officers cannot fine quarantine offenders who land in Montreal, because in Quebec, this type of fine can only be issued by provincial prosecutors.
Quebec’s Office of the Director of Criminal and Punitive Prosecutions (DPCP) told businesshala News that the hotel is unable to provide – or even confirm – specific data on the number of fines issued to quarantine violators. whether any have been issued.
The DPCP said violators could face a fine of up to one year.
‘I’m not paying for it’
It’s a different story for air travelers who landed in Vancouver and Toronto and refused to quarantine at a hotel.
businesshala News interviewed eight passengers who were fined between $3,450 and $6,255 by authorities at either Vancouver or Toronto airports. Each of them said they plan to fight their fine in court and feel it is unfair that they should pay when the other passengers have not been affected.
“I’m not paying it, because it makes absolutely no sense,” said Michael Allen of Windsor, Ont. The former CFL player-turned-organic gardener was fined $6,255 at the Toronto airport on July 8. He said he was returning from a business trip to Jamaica.
Allen said he refused to quarantine in a hotel because he felt it was best to do a complete quarantine in his empty home.
He is now waiting to fight his fine in court.
“Some people are fined. Some are not. … there’s no consistency,” said Allen, who also pointed out that travelers entering Canada by land Did not have to quarantine in any hotel.
“All these things make it unjust. It’s just an unjust law.”
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Lawyer Zwiebel said the inconsistency was one of several reasons he believed the quarantine program was flawed and unnecessary.
“The reality is that the law cannot solve every problem, and this is one instance where I think the law was not very effective,” she said. “There are other tools that probably work better, tools like public education.”
Asked about claims that the hotel quarantine program was unfair because some passengers were not fined, PHAC reiterated that authorities in Alberta and Quebec had the power to issue fines.
The agency also said that the hotel quarantine requirement was enforced only for international air travelers, because at the time, air travel consisted of most leisure travel, and air travelers generally had high COVID-19. test positivity rate than those traveling by land.