Ottawa ups fine to $5,000 for travellers who refuse to quarantine in a hotel

Air passengers entering Canada who refuse to quarantine in a designated hotel will soon be subject to a $5,000 fine.

Advisory panel said last week hotel quarantine system is flawed

Two travellers are pictured at Pearson International Airport on Feb. 23. Air passengers landing in Canada who refuse to quarantine in a hotel could face a $5,000 fine starting on Friday. (Sam Nar/CBC)

Air passengers entering Canada who refuse to quarantine in a designated hotel will soon be subject to a $5,000 fine.

The federal government has announced that, starting Friday, international air passengers who decline to take their required COVID-19 tests or who refuse to check into a quarantine hotel could be hit with a $5,000 fine for each offence — a $2,000 increase from the current fine.

On Feb. 22, the government said air passengers entering Canada must take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and spend up to three days of their 14-day quarantine at a government-approved hotel to wait for their test results. Passengers must foot the bill for their stay, which can cost up to $2,000.

Travellers must also provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter Canada.

The fine increase follows a government advisory panel report issued last week which said Ottawa should scrap the hotel quarantine requirement and instead let people arrange their own quarantine.

The panel said the hotel quarantine is flawed for a number of reasons, including that some travellers are choosing to bypass the rules and pay the current fine of up to $3,000.

Between April 14 and May 24, more than 1,000 travellers were fined for refusing to go to a quarantine hotel and more than 400 were fined for not taking their pre-boarding COVID-19 test or the one required upon arrival at the airport, according to the government.

WATCH | Panel recommends dropping hotel quarantines: 

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The panel's other criticisms of the hotel quarantine requirement included that it is expensive for both the government and travellers, inconsistent with land-border rules which don't force international arrivals to stay in a hotel, and that the three-day hotel stay doesn't match up with the recommended incubation period of COVID-19.

On Thursday, the federal Conservative Party condemned the government for raising the fine amount instead of axing the hotel quarantine program in response to the panel's report. 

    "Instead of increasing the fine for Canadians refusing to take part in their unsafe hotel quarantine, the Trudeau Liberals must listen to the science and immediately scrap their disastrous program," said Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner, the Conservatives' health critic, in a statement. 

    'Just go directly home'

    The current hotel quarantine restrictions are slated to expire on June 21, but the government has yet to say if it will follow the advice of the advisory panel and scrap the requirement. 

    "This report provides us with a roadmap, if you will, of the next steps we can consider as we begin to see an increased protection of Canadians through vaccination and the reduction of COVID-19," Health Minister Patty Hajdu said at a news conference last week. 

    Meanwhile, the increased fine might not dissuade some people from violating the hotel quarantine rules, depending on their resolve or where they land. 

    Kent Saunders — a dual Canada-U.S. citizen living in Las Vegas — flew to Vancouver in April and said he informed a health official at the airport he was heading directly to a friend's place to quarantine. 

    The official issued him a ticket for $3,450 ($3,000 plus added fees). Saunders told CBC News he has no intention of paying the fine.

    "You're getting $3,450 out of me? You're dreaming," he said.

    Also, there is no indication yet from Ottawa that any international travellers landing in Calgary have been fined. 

    During the pandemic, international flights to Canada can only land at airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

    Last month, Calgary police told CBC News that because Alberta never adopted the federal Contraventions Act — which allows police to ticket people for federal offences — Calgary police can only investigate a person who refused to quarantine in a hotel if someone launches a complaint. 

    Snowbird Allan Prout in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Prout refused to quarantine in a hotel after returning to Canada and says he has yet to receive a fine. (Submitted by Allan Prout)

    Allan Prout of Yorkton, Sask., who flew to Calgary from Puerto Vallarta on April 26, said he refused to quarantine in a hotel and has yet to receive a fine. 

    "I'm quite happy," he said. "I mean, I'd be devastated if I got fined."

    Prout said he refused to check into a quarantine hotel because he felt he'd be safer quarantining at home than a busy hotel.

    "Just go directly home, do your quarantine."