OTTAWA -- Police across Canada have made home visits to nearly 2,200 Canadians to ensure they are complying with their mandatory 14-day isolation after returning from abroad, and so far only four people have been ticketed for breaking their quarantines under the federal rules.

In late March, in an effort to get a handle on the number of COVID-19 cases being brought into Canada from other countries, the federal government imposed mandatory 14-day isolation for any Canadians coming home, under the Quarantine Act.

Regardless of their symptoms, anyone crossing back over the border must spend 14 days in isolation, whether at home or inside a federally-provided room if their living situation would see them sharing space with a vulnerable person like a senior or someone with pre-existing medical conditions.  

To enforce this order, the Public Health Agency of Canada is working with the RCMP and local law enforcement to check in on these travellers, based on the contact information they are required to provide on a contact-tracing form. If the initial call from the government goes unanswered or if they have an indication the traveller is not complying, police are asked to follow up. 

As of May 13, the Public Health Agency of Canada had sent police forces 2,198 referrals for follow-up visits. As a result of these checks, four people have been ticketed under the Quarantine Act for breaking the rules. Of these, 705 were in Ontario, 299 were in Alberta, and 294 were in Quebec. 

The government did not specify where the infractions occurred or how what kind of monetary penalties were issued with the tickets. 

Those who disobey the quarantine order can face fines of up to $750,000 and up to six months in prison. Additionally, anyone who causes a “risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm” to another person by “willfully or recklessly” contravening the act could be fined up to $1 million and face three years imprisonment.

While the number of people facing Quarantine Act tickets is small, more than 4,500 people have been ticketed or charged for alleged COVID-19 related violations across Canada under various other provincial and municipal orders.

It’s possible, health officials said, that when following up on someone who should be in mandatory isolation, the responding police authorities opted to issue a different level of fine or ticket for breaching local bylaws or provincial laws, as the enforcement mechanisms vary from province to province. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the quarantine measures upon arrival and drastically reducing the number of people who have been able to enter the country have been “essential” to controlling the outbreak. 

“Travel-introduced cases have dropped to next to zero, indicating a high level of compliance of travellers,” the agency said in a statement. 

On Tuesday, Chief Public Health Office Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters that even when the time comes to ease some travel restrictions, the 14-day mandatory quarantine and follow-up enforcement of that order will remain “a cornerstone” of disease control measures, so expect that to be a requirement for some time. 

Asked whether the federal government is looking at further measures such as monitoring devices for travellers entering Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that it will be important to “ensure that new cases aren’t arriving and spreading through the general population,” and that talks are underway with the provinces and territories on next steps.  

Police checks on returning travellers

As of May 13 the Public Health Agency of Canada says they asked police to follow up with 2,198 Canadians to make sure they were following mandatory quarantine orders.

Here are the number of Quarantine compliance visits made by the police in each province and territory.

Infographic by Mahima Singh