May 29, 2023


Safe Travel USA

Opposition want deeper study of troubled hotel quarantine program

Auditor General report found that more than 1,000 people who tested positive for COVID last year were never informed by PHAC

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OTTAWA – Opposition MPs don’t want unanswered questions about Canada’s COVID border screening and hotel quarantines to be left that way, instead hoping the auditor general will take a closer look at the program that left many returning travellers in limbo.

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Auditor General Karen Hogan appeared before a parliamentary committee Tuesday to discuss a report she released in December showing that while the government had improved tracking of inbound travellers, it still had no information on whether a third of returning Canadians followed quarantine rules.

She also found that more than 1,000 people who tested positive for COVID last year were never informed by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Conservative MP Philip Lawrence said he was disappointed by what Hogan didn’t study, noting her review didn’t look into problems for residents staying in quarantine hotels.

“I’m concerned that despite numerous media reports, Ms. Hogan, that your scope did not include the numerous terrible conditions within, and civil liberties that were violated within, the quarantine hotels and the enforcement procedures,” he said at the committee.

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When Canada first instituted hotel quarantine there were widespread reports that some hotels were ill prepared and didn’t provide adequate food or other necessities to travellers waiting for a negative COVID test.

There were also two cases of reported sexual assault, one for a passenger waiting in a hotel and the other that was alleged to have occurred when a quarantine officer checked on a women at her home.

Lawrence said that was a major concern and should be subject to an audit.

It’s been well documented there were cases of sexual misconduct, but even smaller, lesser things like children not getting medicine, children not getting diapers

Conservative MP Philip Lawrence

“It’s been well documented there were cases of sexual misconduct, but even smaller, lesser things like children not getting medicine, children not getting diapers. These are significant issues and I would have liked to see a deeper report on that.”

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During committee testimony, Hogan said they did review PHAC’s security procedures and that investigating individual assaults was not her place.

“I do believe in the cases that you’re talking about law enforcement was the right party to do that investigation and not our office,” she said.

More generally, Hogan said their goal with the audit of the border requirements was to measure whether they were effective in countering the spread of COVID-19 and if they were working as the government designed.

She confirmed auditors did not speak with people who stayed in quarantine hotels, but instead focused on the public health agency’s data and what they were able to prove about their program.

“When it comes to speaking with Canadians directly, we found in other audits there’s sometimes a hesitancy to want to speak to us, especially when it’s a very personal matter,” she said.

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NDP MP Blake Desjarlais raised another problem with the program, highlighting that returning travellers were only fined for breaching quarantine orders in some provinces.

International travellers were all funnelled through airports in either Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or Calgary. The Alberta government did not sign onto a piece of legislation that would have created a simple process for issuing fines. Hogan documented that while thousands of tickets were issued in Ontario and British Columbia for violating quarantine, no tickets were issued in Alberta.

Desjarlais said that was an unacceptable gap in the enforcement regime.

“In Alberta, despite being home to one of the four airports just mentioned in the country, that accepting international flights and authorities, the authorities there issued zero dollars in fines,” he said. “There is a massive gap in our ability to enforce public health measures and leaves Albertans, in particular, more vulnerable to new variants.”

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Hogan said that was a failure of the agency to come up with a common plan and something they should address.

“It was clear from our findings that the public health agency hasn’t worked through the cohesive enforcement requirements across the country,” she said.

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, PHAC’s president, said they were looking at other ways to enforce quarantines in the future, but said those talks were in the early stages.

“We are exploring the other options which we could actually put in place so that we are better equipped and have more tools,” he said.

Canada has removed most COVID travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers. The hotel quarantine program has been eliminated and only unvaccinated travellers are required to be tested. They must quarantine until receiving a negative result, but can do so at home.

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