Commons committee to study safety of quarantine hotels, at-home inspections
OTTAWA -- Members of the House of Commons’ public safety committee have voted to undertake a study into the safety and security of new mandatory hotel quarantine sites and at-home compliance checks by federal screening officers following international travel.
MPs voted unanimously to pursue an investigation into both measures on Monday, following recent allegations of sexual assault at a government-run quarantine hotel in Montreal, and another during a compliance check in Oakville.
The Conservative-backed motion accuses the federal government of failing to "prevent sexual assaults and other crimes against travellers under these federal orders" and invites officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada, RCMP, and the Canada Border Services Agency as well as Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to appear as witnesses.
The alleged assault at a quarantine hotel in Montreal occurred on Feb. 17, before hotel quarantines became mandatory. The woman alleging the assault told CTV News that a man -- a fellow traveller -- came into her room, refused to leave, partially undressed and touched her against her will, only leaving when she threatened to scream. The man faces one count of sexual assault, one count of breaking and entering, and one count of criminal harassment. None of the allegations against him have been tested in court.
The second assault, at a home in Oakville, occurred on Feb. 18. A quarantine screening officer allegedly demanded cash from a woman he said was violating quarantine rules, before sexually assaulting her. He has been charged with sexual assault and extortion. None of the allegations against him have been tested in court.
Under the Quarantine Act, screening officers can visit an individual’s quarantine location to confirm rules are being followed and "may provide compliance education or issue verbal warnings, as required."
In an attached letter to the chair of the public safety committee, four Conservative members call for the suspension of the new hotel quarantine measures, "while continuing with the pre-existing on-arrival testing and the 14-day at-home quarantine for all international travellers."
The mandatory hotel quarantine came into effect on Feb. 22 and requires all travellers who have returned to Canada from travel abroad to stay in a designated hotel for at least three days, at their own expense, while they await a PCR test taken upon arrival.
Since then, concerns around the security, service, and general function of these sites have come to light. While some have complained of long delays to book a room, others say their rooms were dirty, their food cold and they lacked access to bottled water.
Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs, who brought forward the motion to committee, said the intention is not to study the specific complaints in question, but rather "examine the clear risks to safety and security, to seek information and accountability on what are now these obvious concerns."
She said it’s also necessary to better understand the training and vetting of the security personnel at the hotel quarantine sites and the screening officers who conduct at-home compliance checks.
"It’s urgent, since there has been no suspension of the program and, to date, no comprehensive or substantive answers about what review is happening right now about how many others might be at risk, about what gaps there are," she said.
On CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Monday, Liberal MP Greg Fergus made the case that while these allegations are "very serious and unacceptable," the overall objective of the program is well-intentioned.
"We brought in these tougher measures to make sure that we’re protecting Canadians from the risk of spreading any of the variants," said Fergus.
"There are adjustments to be made and those adjustments are being made and we’re working with the hotel association to provide the level of service that would be appropriate."
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, Cole Davidson, a spokesperson for Hajdu, echoed this sentiment.
"These allegations are deeply concerning and are being fully investigated. The Public Health Agency of Canada is reviewing its processes internally and with service providers to ensure the health and safety of all returning travellers to Canada."
With files from CTV News' Iman Kassam & Selena Ross