Less than a week after the introduction of new rules obliging international air travellers to quarantine at a hotel on arrival in Canada, the plan is facing criticism after allegations of sexual assault and reports that some passengers are ignoring the rules.
Amid growing concern that international travellers could pose a risk of spreading variants of the coronavirus, Canada began requiring anyone arriving from abroad to isolate at a hotel for up to three nights, beginning Monday.
Passengers are expected to foot the bill for their stay, which the federal government says includes the cost of food, hotel security, transport, cleaning and coronavirus testing.
Some travellers have reported hours-long delays when trying to book a hotel, but police in Ontario say others are instead simply walking out of the airport.
Police at Toronto’s Pearson airport, the country’s busiest terminal, say they have fined several people who have attempted to evade controls, but the C$880 penalty is well below the estimated bill of C$2,000 for a three-night stay at the quarantine hotels.
Police also told reporters they will not detain anyone breaking public health rules unless there is clear indication of criminality. The country’s public health agency may possibly issue any potential subsequent fines under the Quarantine Act – including a maximum fine of up to $750,000 or six months in jail.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has said it was “aware” of reports that travellers are bypassing mandatory hotels and was looking into the situation.
“Travellers are legally obligated to follow the instructions of a screening officer or quarantine officer through the 14-day period, whether in regards to testing, transit to locations, their mandatory hotel stopover or during quarantine at home or other suitable location,” the agency said in a statement.
Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ontario, called the passengers who flouted the rules “selfish” and warned they were endangering the community.
No other airports have reported problems with passengers breaking public health rules.
Amid growing criticism of the quarantine plan, federal Conservatives have called on the government to suspend the policy after reports of an alleged sexual assault at a quarantine hotel.
“We are deeply angered to hear reports of sexual violence happening during federally mandated quarantines by those supposed to be protecting public health,” parliamentarians Michelle Rempel Garner, Shannon Stubbs and Jag Sahota said in a statement.
Montreal police have charged Robert Shakory with one count of sexual assault, one count of breaking and entering, and one count of criminal harassment after a 17 February incident.
The lawmakers also cited a case in which a quarantine screening officer allegedly demanded money from a woman and then sexually assaulted her during a quarantine compliance check at her home last week. A 27-year-old man has been charged.