Politics

Failing to self-isolate could put civil liberties in 'jeopardy,' Hajdu warns

Health Minister Patty Hajdu gave a stern warning to Canadians defying self-isolation orders Saturday, saying that a failure to follow public health guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 could “put our civil liberties in jeopardy.”

Stronger measures to contain people in their homes a possibility if guidelines disobeyed

Health Minister Patty Hajdu took a hard line against Canadians disobeying public health measures designed to halt the spread of COVID-19 during a Saturday news conference. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Health Minister Patty Hajdu gave a stern warning to Canadians defying self-isolation orders Saturday, saying that a failure to follow public health guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 could "put our civil liberties in jeopardy."

"It makes governments have to look at more and more stringent measures to actually contain people in their own homes," Hajdu said during a news conference attended by other cabinet ministers. "Our freedoms around the measures that we're taking right now depend on people taking them seriously."

Hajdu urged Canadians to work together to contain the spread of COVID-19, which surpassed 1,200 confirmed cases across the country on Saturday.

The federal government has advised Canadians to stay at home and limit their contact with others if they have been diagnosed with the virus, exposed to someone who has or if they travelled outside the country within the past 14 days.

The minister said that if people fail to abide by those recommendations, politicians and governments could be forced to consider stronger measures. 

"I would encourage Canadians to think about that and to think about their obligation to act collectively right now," Hajdu urged. "Right now is your chance."

WATCH | Social distancing could last months, health minister says

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is sending a warning to Canadians ignoring social distancing measures, saying it jeopardizes civil liberties and puts lives at risk. She anticipates these measures will last months, stressing 'now is not the time to take your foot off the social distancing measures.' 2:25

Provinces and territories ramp up measures

Hajdu's warning comes as some of Canada's provinces and territories have begun taking unprecedented steps to protect their borders — measures that would result in steep penalties if violated.

The Northwest Territories will ban non-essential travel into the territory on Saturday — the same day it logged its first positive case of COVID-19.

Disobeying the order is punishable by law and could result in a fine of up to $10,000 and six months imprisonment.

Also Saturday, P.E.I.'s chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison announced enhanced screening measures for the province, including directing anyone coming in and out of the region — even from other parts of Canada — to self-isolate for 14 days.

Morrison said P.E.I. may look to law enforcement to make sure the measures are followed.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball made a similar announcement for his province Friday. 

In Ontario, provincial police will fine both people and businesses if social distancing is not respected, a penalty that could set individuals back $1,000 and climb up to $500,000 for corporations.

Quebec woman arrested for violating quarantine order

On Friday, Quebec City police arrested a woman who tested positive for the coronavirus after she went out for a walk, violating a quarantine order. 

Authorities are permitted to carry out such arrests under Quebec's Public Health Act. The province's police service said it will assist Quebec's Health Ministry to enforce the act. 

In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe said this week that any residents returning from international travel would face legal consequences if isolation orders were disobeyed.

The Saskatoon Police Force said Friday it had already received calls to arrest an individual thought to be defying a quarantine order.

Trudeau: Emergencies Act not 'essential'

Hajdu said that each province and territory has its own Quarantine Act, which come with "significant penalties" for violations.

"It's within their jurisdiction to apply those," she said. "These are very, very strong pieces of legislation that provide the various jurisdictions quite a bit of discretion in terms of how they will apply it and how they will assess the penalties."

Another act that could come into play is the Emergencies Act, which would allow the federal government to put in place temporary measures to ensure the safety and security of Canadians during a national crisis — like prohibiting travel.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated Saturday that no measures are off the table, but said that there are no immediate plans to invoke the act, which has never happened since it came into effect in 1988. 

"We do not see the federal Emergencies Act as an essential tool today, but we are continuing to look at the situation and we'll make decisions based on the best recommendations of science," he said. 

Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, addressed a letter to Trudeau late Saturday pleading for federal and provincial governments to "act aggressively" and with a "united front" to keep Canadians inside their homes.

"Beginning immediately, all Canadians should be told, not asked or advised, to stay at home unless their jobs are essential or they must leave the home to purchase food and other necessities," Hyder wrote on behalf of business leaders across the country.

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