A shortage of COVID tests combined with exorbitant fines is stranding Canadian travellers outside their homeland
It may be unpopular to stand up for travellers during COVID-19, but violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should concern every Canadian. Reports coming out of the U.S. suggest our federal government is de facto denying Canadian citizens a key right: the one to enter, remain in, or leave Canada.
The violation comes in the face of severe testing shortages. Increasingly, Canadians who travel to the U.S. are unable to secure the negative COVID molecular test result that is required within 72 hours of their return home. This even includes those who have pre-booked tests. In response, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Canada Border Services Agency are presenting these Canadian citizens with two options: being denied entry or paying exorbitant fines of $6,200 per person to enter the country.
One Canadian woman who drove south with her mother and brother to visit family over the holidays, only to have pre-booked tests cancelled in the face of the shortages, reports border officials told her they could return to Canada only if they accepted the $6,200 per person fine –– a sum totalling $18,600. The trio offered to quarantine in Canada, but there is currently no quarantine option available. They had to turn back. “It’s not a choice for us to cross and take the fine,” she told the CBC.
Violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should concern every Canadian
That’s the crux of the issue. The fines are so excessive, so punitive that they’re not a real choice when tests are so scarce. They would push most individuals, and certainly most families, into significant debt. If accepting them is the only option to enter Canada when accessing tests is practically impossible, then Canadian citizens are in effect being denied their right to entry. It seems unlikely the practice would survive a court challenge.
The government justifies the fines by pointing to advisories against nonessential travel. However, they’re just that –– advisories. Even if you think it’s entirely boneheaded and irresponsible to travel right now, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s every Canadian citizen’s right to leave and re-enter the country freely. Infringing on this right should be concerning, no matter how one feels about travellers. There are no charter exemptions for schadenfreude.
It’s important to point out that these border fines differ significantly from fines levied earlier in the pandemic against travellers who refused to stay in quarantine hotels. In those cases, Canadian citizens weren’t effectively being denied entry. They were being fined for a choice made once inside the country.
Without getting into the argument over whether it’s absurd for the Canadian government to insist on tests for returning travellers when there’s already ample community spread within our borders, there are two obvious solutions for bringing policies back in line with the charter. The first is to reduce fines to a level the majority of Canadians could afford –– although even this may be problematic as it could disproportionately bar lower income citizens from re-entry. The second is to offer a realistic quarantine option, which if not followed, can result in larger fines. This must happen until, at the very least, molecular tests return to widespread availability.
While it’s clearly important to protect Canadians from COVID-19 spread, those measures must adhere to the charter and avoid infringing upon liberties when alternatives are available. The right to freely leave and re-enter Canada is one of the most important and must be reinstated in full, without draconian fines that present only a veneer of choice.
The big issues are far from settled. Sign up for the NP Comment newsletter, NP Platformed.
For the founders of the Canadian accessories brand Ai Toronto Seoul, fashion is a family affair.
Salehe Bembury designed the 2022 genderless collection
How to do-it-yourself but not look like you did
Compiled by the Association of Book Publishers of B.C.
From waterproof Uggs (yes, they’re back!) to high-fashion finds, here are our favourites.
Sign up to receive the daily top stories from the National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.
A welcome email is on its way. If you don’t see it, please check your junk folder.
The next issue of NP Posted will soon be in your inbox.
We encountered an issue signing you up. Please try again
Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.
365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4
© 2022 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited.