Federal Conservatives call for suspension of hotel quarantine policy following reports of sexual assault
2 women allege they were sexually assaulted while following quarantine requirements
Some Conservative MPs are asking the federal government to suspend the mandatory hotel quarantine policy in the wake of two reports of sexual violence.
Montreal police have arrested a Windsor, Ont., man alleged to have assaulted a woman at a quarantine hotel in Dorval, Que.
The woman in question told La Presse that a fellow traveller forced his way into her hotel room, grabbed her and then started to undress while grabbing his genitals. She said security guards were slow to respond to her calls for help.
Robert Shakory was arrested by Montreal police and now faces charges of sexual assault, breaking and entering and criminal harassment, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, a Hamilton, Ont., man hired and trained by Canada's federal public health agency to work as a security guard has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman during a quarantine check this month.
Halton Region Police say the man, whose full name is Hemant, went to an Oakville, Ont., home on Feb. 18 to carry out a quarantine compliance check, demanded money for a bogus fine and then sexually assaulted a woman after she refused to pay.
Hemant was arrested Tuesday and has been charged with extortion and sexual assault; the police have warned that "there may be other victims." He has been suspended from the security firm, which has not been identified by police.
"We are deeply angered to hear reports of sexual violence are happening during federally mandated quarantines by those supposed to be protecting public health," said the statement by a group of Conservative MPs that includes health critic Michelle Rempel Garner and Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative public safety critic.
The MPs said travellers have a right to expect safe conditions at federally run quarantine sites and the alleged sexual violations are "unconscionable."
"The Liberal government must take action now. We call for the Liberals to suspend the hotel quarantine requirement until they have put measures in place to ensure the safety of Canadians and institute a system for verifying at-home quarantine that doesn't involve security agents who have not been properly vetted," the MPs said.
All air travellers returning from non-essential international trips must stay in an approved hotel, at their own expense, for up to 72 hours while they await the results of a polymerase chain reaction test (commonly known as a PCR test) taken upon arrival.
While that program took effect on Feb. 22, some travellers were forced into quarantine facilities before that date because they did not have adequate isolation plans.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has recruited security guards from private firms to conduct compliance checks on some returning travellers who are isolating at home.
Under the Quarantine Act, these "designated screening officers" can regularly visit a traveler's home to ensure they are adhering to the mandatory 14-day isolation requirement and provide "compliance education," or issue verbal warnings, as required.
The officers are not police, however, and they cannot issue a ticket or conduct an arrest. They also can't demand payment of any kind. If concerns are raised during a compliance check, PHAC may request followups by law enforcement.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the allegations are "deeply concerning" and are "being fully investigated."
"The Public Health Agency of Canada is reviewing its processes internally and with service providers to ensure the health and safety of all returning travellers to Canada," the spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.
PHAC has awarded contracts to four security companies to help with the quarantine monitoring: The Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, G4S Secure Solutions, Garda Canada Security Corporation (GardaWorld) and Paladin Risk Solutions.
In a statement, the public health agency said it's "aware of the incident" at the Montreal hotel and is "working with law enforcement and the affected hotel to shed light on the situation."
The agency said it has stationed federal employees and security guards at designated quarantine facilities "to help provide a safe and secure environment." The agency said it is in "daily contact with hotels to support their needs."
The statement did not address the alleged assault at the Oakville home.
WATCH | O'Toole questions Liberal government's quarantine program:
In question period on Thursday, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole pressed Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on the harassment reports and other issues with the mandatory quarantine program — such as persistent problems with the reservation system. Some travellers have reported hours-long waits to get through on the hotel-booking hotline.
"If no part of this program is working, why has the government not suspended it?" O'Toole said.
Freeland said that "as a woman, as a mother and as a feminist," she is concerned about reports of sexual violence at quarantine facilities and by PHAC-employed security guards.
"No one should ever have to fear for their safety," she said.
Freeland said the quarantine program must be maintained now that new, more transmissible COVID-19 variants are in circulation. "Our government will always do whatever it takes to protect Canadians."
Questioned by Rempel Garner in the Commons, Hajdu said "every woman deserves a life free of violence and a life of dignity."
"The assault of a woman is never OK," Hajdu said. She promised that PHAC would review contracts with security firms tasked with tracking returning travellers.
She said she was troubled to hear the Conservatives call for an end to a program designed to halt the introduction of new COVID-19 cases.
Citing the slow take-up for rapid COVID-19 tests, vaccine delivery delays and the quarantine program, O'Toole said "everything this Liberal government touches turns into a failure."