Sunday,  July 25, 2021  1:42 am

Federal Court rules quarantine hotels constitutional

Federal Court rules quarantine hotels constitutional
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

A federal court judge has rejected a constitutional challenge on the Canadian government’s mandatory hotel quarantine program for international air arrivals.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, in a release on June 18, said it is disappointed with Chief Justice Paul Crampton’s recent ruling.

“The decision will be reviewed thoroughly with a view to appeal,” wrote the Justice Centre, a legal advocacy organization.

Ottawa’s controversial policy, which orders air travellers entering Canada from abroad to pre-book a three-night, non-refundable stay at a government-authorized hotel, began on February 22.

The Justice Centre was in Federal Court form June 1-3 on behalf of Pastor Nicole Mathis and ten other clients.

READ MORE: Hotel quarantine secrets revealed - a travel agent’s tell-all

It argued that mandatory quarantine of law-abiding Canadians in federally-mandated facilities violated their rights to enter and leave Canada freely pursuant to their rights under S. 6(1) of the Charter, it violated their rights not to be arbitrarily detained, their right to speak to counsel upon their detention and their rights to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the right to have their detention contested in court.

“Never in post Charter history have law-abiding Canadians been detained en masse against their will, with no regard for the fundamental freedoms this country was founded on,” stated Justice Centre Litigation Director Jay Cameron.

“The Federal Courts finding that these heavy-handed measures are constitutional is deeply concerning. Canadians continue to wait anxiously for the courts of the land to draw boundaries around the increasingly authoritarian measures of government regarding Covid. We are reviewing the decision carefully.”

The Federal Court, however, found that the constitutional rights and freedoms of Justice Centre client, Pastor Nicole Mathis, were unjustifiably infringed by authorities failure to inform the Pastor Mathis of her right to counsel upon detention, and her and her family’s right to know the name and location of the designated quarantine facility she was being taken to.

Pastor Nicole Mathis with her husband. (jccf.ca)

According to the Justice Centre, Pastor Mathis was forced against her will on Jan 28 into a federal quarantine facility and detained for three nights because her negative COVID test was not accepted by Canadian Public Health officials.

Calgary police officers refused to tell her worried husband, Pastor Chris Mathis, where his wife was being taken, the organization says.

“Pandemics call for sacrifices”

In his decision, which you can view here, Chief Justice Crampton wrote that while he recognizes some people may have good reasons to travel, and may not welcome quarantine measures, “pandemics call for sacrifices to save lives and avoid broad based suffering.”

READ MORE: Federal advisory panel recommends ending hotel quarantine, Ottawa declines

“If some are unwilling to make such sacrifices, and engage in behaviour that poses a demonstrated risk to the health and safety of others, the principles of fundamental justice will not prevent the state from performing its essential function of protecting its citizens from that risk,” he wrote.

Trudeau defends measure

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his hotel quarantine policy on Friday (June 18) at a press conference from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.

The measure, he told reporters, was introduced “as a way of ensuring and reassuring Canadians that people travelling into the country are not a significant source of spread of COVID-19 – and it has worked."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses media on Jun 18, 2021.

The enforcement of the program, however, has been riddled with inconsistencies.

As it has been well-documented, travellers can simply refuse the order and walk out of airports and accept a fine instead.

Earlier this month, Ottawa raised the fine for skipping hotel quarantine to $5,000, up from $3,000.

In addition, hotels that were designed to halt the spread of COVID-19, at various points, have been dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks of their own. 

The federally-appointed “COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel,” in a report released in May, advised Ottawa to discontinue hotel quarantine due to several problems with the program.

The issues include the aforementioned loophole of travellers choosing to pay fines instead without presenting a quarantine alternative and administrative burdens associated with managing the policy.

The panel also noted inconsistencies between land and air-border measures given that some travellers can land at a U.S. airport and enter Canada by car to avoid the hotel stay.

Starting in July, the hotel stopover will be discontinued for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents, essential workers and foreign students entering the country.


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