MONTREAL — No one in Quebec has been fined or ticketed for violating the national health order requiring travellers arriving in Canada to quarantine at a designated hotel, according to province's prosecution bureau.
That is despite Quebec's government being one of the most vocal in the country for strict border restrictions. Premier François Legault had repeatedly demanded Ottawa do more to curb people's ability to leave or enter the country.
In January, Legault called on Ottawa to ban non-essential flights to Canada or require people to quarantine at a hotel where they could more easily be monitored by police.
"We cannot take any chances with the new variant,'' Legault said on Jan. 21, lamenting that the federal government was too lax with travellers. "Right now, the (home) quarantine for these people is not enough of a guarantee for the protection of Quebecers.''
In response to demands from Quebec and other provinces, the federal government modified the Quarantine Act to limit all international flights into the country to airports in four cities: Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Since Feb. 22, most travellers arriving in Canada by air are required to quarantine at a government-approved hotel while they wait for the results of a COVID-19 test conducted when they land in the country.
Those who test negative can complete the rest of their 14-day quarantine at home, while those who test positive must finish their isolation in a government-designated facility.
Across the country, at least 1,098 tickets have been issued and 15 people have been criminally charged for violations of the Quarantine Act since March 2020, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The agency did not immediately reply to a question about how many of those were for violations of the hotel quarantine requirement.
The agency works with the RCMP, local police and private security to enforce the act, Tammy Jarbeau, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email Thursday.
"To date, more than 210,000 compliance visits have been made," she said. "PHAC is aware of incidents of travellers choosing to take a contraventions ticket instead of paying for a three-night hotel stay. These travellers are consistently referred to local law enforcement for priority follow-up."
In Quebec, provincial prosecutors haven't issued any fines — or filed any charges — for violations of the Quarantine Act, Audrey Roy-Cloutier, a spokeswoman for Quebec's prosecutors office, said in an email Wednesday.
Quebec prosecutors are responsible for issuing tickets for violations of the law and share responsibility with their federal colleagues for laying charges, she said.
Nathalie Houle, a spokeswoman for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, said federal prosecutors haven't laid any charges for violations of the hotel quarantine requirement in Quebec.
A request for comment to Legault's office was directed to the office of Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault. Amélie Paquet, a spokeswoman for Guilbault, says police in the province are enforcing the law.
"Quebec police are in action," she said. "Police are submitting infraction reports and they're making home visits with the list provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada."
Since February, provincial and municipal police forces in Quebec have had full responsibility for enforcing the Quarantine Act in the province, she said. Before that, she added, the RCMP was the primary agency responsible for the law.
While Quebec police can issue fines on the spot for some violations of the province's Public Health Act, fines under the federal Quarantine Act must be issued by prosecutors, Paquet said.
Montreal police said they're working with the PHAC and have submitted 43 reports of alleged violations of the Quarantine Act to prosecutors since Feb. 22, the day the hotel requirement took effect. They declined to say whether any of those reports were related to violations of that requirement.
The provincial prosecution bureau said it can't comment about why no fines have been issued — or charges laid — in any of those 43 cases.
It's not just Quebec where few or no charges have been laid for violations of the Quarantine Act.
Between March 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, three charges were filed in Alberta provincial court under the Quarantine Act, according to the province's Justice Department.
Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for the British Columbia Prosecution Service, said prosecutors in that province aren't responsible for prosecuting offences under the Quarantine Act.
Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General was not able to immediately provide data on Quarantine Act prosecutions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press