Workers prepare to greet passengers at the COVID-19 testing centre in the International Arrivals area at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday January 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Workers prepare to greet passengers at the COVID-19 testing centre in the International Arrivals area at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday January 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Federal Court judge dismisses bid to halt hotel quarantines

Justice Centre said the feds will have ‘to account for the incarceration of Canadians without due process’

A group of air travellers has lost a Federal Court bid for an interim injunction to prohibit hotel quarantines for returning passengers.

Justice William Pentney said in a written ruling that the three-day stay in federally designated facilities does not put Canadians’ security at significant risk.

The mandatory quarantine — part of a two-week self-isolation regime for travellers flying back from abroad — came into effect on Feb. 22 following federal measures announced the previous month amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes a coronavirus test upon arrival and can cost up to $2,000.

It has faced some backlash from opposition MPs, civil liberties groups and health experts for either coming too late, encroaching on individual freedoms or not going far enough.

However, the judge said the risk that travellers will unwittingly carry COVID-19 variants over the border even after testing negative before flight departure means the measures should stand until a final ruling comes down.

“I do not doubt that the applicants, and other travellers, may be vexed and inconvenienced by the requirement to pay to stay at a hotel while they wait for the results of their COVID-19 test. However, I do not accept that doing so exposes these travellers to any significant security risk,” Pentney wrote in the ruling released Friday.

The broader case against the hotel stays, organized by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, is slated to continue in Federal Court with a three-day hearing starting June 1.

Justice Centre spokesman Jay Cameron said the federal government will have “to account for the incarceration of Canadians without due process.”

“The forced isolation of Canadians in federal facilities, even though they are asymptomatic and have already tested negative for COVID, is an unwarranted, arbitrary and unjustified detention that is a shameful blight on the nation,” he said in an email.

Multiple G20 countries have arguably stricter quarantine measures. Australia, the United Kingdom, China and Japan mandate hotel quarantines ranging from 10 days to three weeks for some or most arrivals.

The preliminary ruling did not examine the applicants’ core claims under sections 7 and 9 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protect Canadians’ right to life, liberty and security and their right not to be arbitrarily detained, respectively. These will come under the microscope after a full hearing in five weeks, the judge said.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole on Monday called for tighter travel restrictions rather than “half measures” by the Liberal government.

He said Canada should consider an immediate ban on all international flights, particularly COVID-19 hot spots, and implement rapid testing at airports and land-border crossings to keep out more transmissible strains of the virus.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada has among the strictest travel and border rules across the globe, including the 14-day self-isolation and a ban on travel into the country by most non-residents.

On Thursday, the federal government announced a 30-day ban on all direct flights from India and Pakistan as case numbers spike at home and more contagious strains including the B.1.6.1.7 variant ravage the subcontinent.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


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