Health minister not ruling out criminal penalties for travellers who don’t self-isolate

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says she’s looking at criminal penalties for Canadian travellers who don’t follow the government’s advice to self-isolate when they return home.

“Let me be perfectly clear. We will use every measure in our tool box at the federal level to ensure compliance … we have measures that could include monetary penalties up to and including criminal penalties,” she said during her daily briefing on Parliament Hill.

“When we say that you must stay at home for 14 days, that means you stay at home for 14 days. You do not stop for groceries, that you do not go visit your neighbours or your friends, that you rest in your house for 14 days. No exceptions.”

The Quarantine Act, which was updated in 2005 after the deadly SARS outbreak, gives the federal health minister the power to designate quarantine zones and fine or jail travellers who disobey quarantine requests.

If a designated quarantine officer believes that a traveller has refused to isolate themselves, they can ask a peace officer to arrest the traveller and bring them into quarantine.

For now, Hajdu says the government is still asking and recommending Canadians follow the self-isolation guidelines.

“And I’m hoping we don’t have to get to ordering them,” she said.

“It is critically important, especially for those returning home now, to ensure that they follow this public health advice that we’re giving them. The advice will be not just advice — if we need to take stronger measures we will.”

More Canadians are expected to make it home in the coming days.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said WestJet will run more than 30 flights from Monday to Wednesday to bring home Canadians stuck abroad back.

Trudeau said stronger federal measures are on the table under the Emergencies Act, but for now Ottawa is working with the provinces who are restricting movement on their own.

Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency Sunday morning, limiting gatherings to no more than five people.

Premier Stephen McNeil ​​​​​​said he made the decision after people flagrantly ignored public health officials’ calls for social distancing.

Police in that province can now issue summary offence tickets for people who are not adhering to orders related to self-isolation and social distancing.

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. 

House set to return Tuesday 

A smaller-than-normal number of MPs will be called back on Tuesday at noon to adopt emergency measures announced earlier this week by the federal government that are intended to offset the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The package includes $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion to help business liquidity through tax deferrals.

“These are only a very first step,” said Trudeau from outside his home in Ottawa, where he’s been giving daily updates from self-isolation after his wife tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a press conference on COVID-19 at Rideau Cottage, his residence on the grounds of Rideau Hall in Ottawa, on Saturday. He gave an update today on Parliament’s return. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

“We are looking now at what those next steps are to ensure that our economy is able to pick up again once we’re through this, whether it take weeks or months. It is likely to take months before we’re fully through this.”

To respect social distancing guidelines, a limited number of MPs will be present in the chamber.  

Scheer supportive of measures 

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party supports getting money out to Canadians.

“We’re supportive of the government, of the House coming back very quickly and passing these measures quickly,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

“We believe that there needs to be more done. We have been calling on the government to do more for workers who are affected by retail stores and restaurants ordered to close as well as for those small businesses themselves.”

Scheer said he’s asked the government to refund the GST collected during the last six months, plus increase wage subsidies to keep people employed during these uncertain times.

“Relief should be targeted and last for as long as needed,” he said

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