Public Safety Minister Bill Blair claimed he has no say regarding the operation of quarantine hotels at a parliamentary committee hearing on March 10, during which he was grilled by Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs over safeguards for guests at federally approved quarantine hotels.
“The operation of the designated quarantine facilities is entirely under the authority of the Public Health Agency of Canada. I actually have no jurisdiction over those matters,” Blair testified before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Blair was replying to a question from Stubbs as to whether risk assessments on the safety and security standards at quarantine hotels were done to protect the Canadians made to stay there to comply with federal travel restrictions.
“Operators have been telling single women not to tell people of their location and to leave their doors unlocked, and that in some cases there are no locks on the doors within those quarantine facilities at all,” Stubbs said.
Blair said he has no jurisdiction over the file, saying Stubbs is “simply misinformed” as to his role.
“Thank you for the condescension,” Stubbs replied.
“I do expect though, that almost every single Canadian would hope that the minister of public safety of this country would avail it of himself to ensure that Canadians are safe and secure within facilities or at home trying to comply with rules that the federal government has set.”
A government order that took effect Feb. 22 requires all non-essential travellers entering Canada by air to stay at a federally approved hotel for up to three nights at the start of a 14-day quarantine. Travellers pay up to $2,000 for the accommodations and can leave once a COVID-19 test taken at the airport comes back negative.
On Feb. 24, the Conservatives called on the Liberal government to scrap the federal quarantine hotel program after reports of two women being sexually assaulted related to quarantine measures. One of the incidents allegedly happened at a quarantine hotel in Montreal on Feb. 16, while the other was tied to a compliance check at a woman’s home in Oakville, Ont., on Feb. 18.
Police have arrested two men in relation to the cases.
Stubbs asked Blair if any background check is conducted on quarantine screening officers before they are hired. He again said the question should be directed to PHAC, but said he took the allegations seriously.
“The events that are alleged are criminal in nature, they must be thoroughly investigated, perpetrators must be held to account,” he said. “I can assure this committee that I understand these matters are being investigated by the police .. and that our agencies, in particular the RCMP, will provide support in that ongoing investigation as required.”
Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who also testified before the committee, was repeatedly asked by Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner whether the federal government has data showing the quarantine hotel program is more effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 variants than at-home quarantine coupled with pre- and post-arrival testing.
Hajdu didn’t answer Rempel Garner’s question directly and there was a back-and-forth between the two, leading to Liberal MP Angelo Iacono accusing the health critic behaving like “a bit of a bully.”
“I would argue that the woman who experienced sexual assault at the quarantine hotel due to this lack of data would in fact be the woman who would have experienced bullying,” Rempel Garner retorted.
Hajdu eventually said that the “data is incomplete internationally.”
“We are as a world trying to figure out what the best approach is to prevent the importation of COVID-19, the combination of quarantine, and testing, and it is under study,” she said.
When Conservative MP Glen Motz asked Hajdu to table the data to the committee regardless of it being incomplete, she clarified, “No, what I’m saying is that the data is incomplete to determine the best approach at the border to manage COVID-19.”
On March 8, the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), an advocacy group, announced it has launched a legal challenge against Ottawa’s hotel quarantine policy, arguing it violates Canadians’ fundamental rights.
The CCF has filed an application with Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice along with five individuals who have just returned from travelling or imminently need to travel.
It notes in a press release that while there are exemptions from quarantine hotels for travellers entering Canada for compassionate reasons, there are no specific exemptions for travellers who must leave Canada for compassionate reasons.
“The individual applicants in this challenge must leave Canada for incredibly compassionate and sympathetic reasons. Their need to travel is unimpeachable,” said CCF litigation director Christine Van Geyn.
“It is frankly bizarre and cruel that the federal government provides specific exemptions for compassionate travel into Canada, but not for the reverse situation of individuals travelling out of Canada for compassionate reasons. That’s why we are bringing this constitutional challenge.”
The application names the Attorney General of Canada as the defendant.
With files from The Canadian Press.