The Quarantine Act
The Quarantine Act was enacted in 2005 to protect public health in Canada by taking comprehensive measures to prevent the introduction or spread of communicable diseases. The Act is meant to give the Federal government power over the Provinces to ensure public health issues are handled with continuity throughout Canada.
The Quarantine Act gives Canada’s Health Minister an array of discretionary powers including the power to designate screening officers, environmental health officers, quarantine officers, designated review officers, to establish quarantine centers anywhere in Canada or order that an existing facility be designated as a quarantine facility, among many other powers.
With the Coronavirus spreading at a rapid rate, Canadian’s are already bound by, and may soon be subject to additional regulations and obligations outlined in the Act. It’s important to remember that neither of these two pieces of legislation will suspend a person’s rights upon arrest.
What Does all This Mean for Canadians?
The Quarantine Act outlines the various obligations on travelers coming into and leaving Canada during a virus outbreak. Section 15(1) of the Act states that every traveler shall answer any relevant questions asked by a screening or quarantine officer. Travelers also have a duty to disclosure any communicable diseases they are aware of upon entering or exiting Canada. If a traveler has indicated that they may have a communicable disease, screening officers may place the traveler in isolation until the traveler can be assessed by a quarantine officer.
Any traveler who refuses to comply with the instructions of a screening officer or a quarantine officer may be arrested by a peace officer without a warrant if there is reasonable grounds to believe that the traveler has refused to be isolated or has refused to comply with any reasonable measure ordered by a screening or quarantine officer.
In addition to ordering an individual to be arrested, quarantine officers also have the power under the Act to require a traveler to undergo a health assessment. If a quarantine officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a traveler may have a communicable disease or was in close contact with someone who has or may have a communicable disease, the traveler has refused to undergo screening or the traveler has refused to comply with a reasonable order made by a screening or quarantine officer, the traveler may be required to undergo a medical assessment. Such an assessment must be completed as soon as practicable or within 48 hours.
Once a medical assessment has been completed, if there is reason to believe the traveler does in fact have a communicable disease, the quarantine officer may order the traveler to comply with a certain line of treatment or any other measure to prevent the spread of the disease. If a traveler fails to comply with such an order, the quarantine officer may request an arrest warrant be issued under the Criminal Code and have the individual arrested and forcibly placed in quarantine. Essentially, if a traveler fails to follow the orders given by a quarantine officer, they may be placed under arrest.
Emergency Orders Under the Quarantine Act
During times of emergency, the Governor in Council may make an order prohibiting, or imposing conditions on any class of persons who has been to a foreign country or a specific part of a foreign country, from entering Canada if the Governor is of the opinion that; there is an outbreak of a communicable disease in that country, the introduction or spread of the disease would pose an imminent and severe risk to public health in Canada, the entry of members of that class into Canada may introduce or spread the disease in Canada, and there are no reasonable alternatives to prevent the introduction or spread of the disease. Essentially, the Governor may prohibit Canadian’s from entering Canada if they have traveled to a part of the world where there is an outbreak of a communicable disease, and the Governor believes allowing the person entry would introduce or spread the communicable disease in Canada. The Governor may also make orders prohibiting or placing conditions on the importing of goods from potentially affected regions into Canada during emergency times.
Penalties for Breaching the Quarantine Act
In addition to outlining additional powers available to the Federal government during times of emergency, the Quarantine Act also enumerates a list of offences under the Act and their corresponding punishments.
The Act makes it an offence to:
- Enter a quarantine facility without authorization
- Leave a quarantine facility without authorization
- Obstruct or hinder an officer’s ability to carry out their duties under the Act or make any false or misleading statement to an officer
An individual who is found to have intentionally breached the act, causing a risk of imminent death or bodily harm to another person, will be liable on summary conviction to a maximum of six months’ imprisonment and/or a $300,000 fine. In more serious cases, on indictment, an individual will be liable to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment and/or a one million dollar fine.
By enacting these emergency powers, the Federal government has been able to ensure the virus outbreak is handled with continuity on a national level, which has helped slow the spread and flatten the curve. These measures have been put in place to ensure Canadians abide by social distancing rules, to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians.
In addition to Federal emergency powers, the Provincial governments have also utilized emergency orders to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19. More information on social distancing regulations in Ontario can be found here.