According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Canadians received $14.8 million in fines last year for violating federal COVID-19 quarantine rules. However, it's unclear which penalties would be enforced.
Agency data from British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada revealed that residents received 3,614 tickets between January and August under the federal Quarantine Act. The feds used the controversial legislation to shut down the border and enforce the use of quarantine facilities.
Depending on the offence, the fines ranged from $825 to $5,000. A single ticket could also reference multiple violations. Ontario, home to the country's busiest airport and a significant land border crossing with the United States, had the most infractions, with 2,672 tickets during that period.
According to PHAC, the most common federal COVID-19 offence in 2022 was travellers entering the country "without a pre-arrival test," garnering at least 1,634 tickets.
All travellers entering Canada had to provide a negative COVID-19 test from an approved lab until April when the government dropped that requirement for fully vaccinated people. It remained in place for those without a Health Canada-approved vaccine for most of the year.
Other common offences included outright refusal to answer questions from a public health officer and failure to complete arrival testing. But overall, people driving into the country committed more violations than those who entered by plane.
On November 10, 2021, The Office of the Auditor General of Canada released a report focusing on how Health Canada implemented and enforced quarantine of air travellers at government-authorized hotels pending the results of their on-arrival COVID-19 tests.
Among other things, the report concluded that although "the Public Health Agency of Canada improved its verification of compliance with 14-day quarantine orders, it did not adequately enforce additional border control measures imposed to limit the introduction of the virus that causes COVID-19 and its variants into Canada." Further, PHAC spent $7 million to operate government-authorized hotels and $225,556,596 to briefly house incoming travellers at designated quarantine facilities.
Supplementary estimates tabled in Parliament revealed taxpayers paid the total expense of transport, room, board and medical care for hotel stay until February 22, 2021, as the cabinet charged costs directly to travellers under the Quarantine Act. The COVID-19 quarantine requirement ended on August 9.
With only 210 issued in Manitoba during the first eight months of 2022, Newfoundland and Labrador nor Prince Edward Island received any fines. Local authorities assessed 21 fines in neighbouring New Brunswick and two in Nova Scotia.
The public health agency's website states Canadians have received nearly 19,000 tickets for federal quarantine violations since March 2020. However, the agency said their data might be incomplete because law enforcement does not have to report enforcement activities of COVID-19 measures and mandates.
"Once issued, ticket payments and challenges are processed by provincial court systems in the relevant jurisdictions," said Health Canada spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau. PHAC said they do not track if those fines get paid.
For 765 of the 3,267 tickets, the individual alleged to have violated the Quarantine Act has been found guilty. Only 97 tickets have been paid, amounting to nearly $300,000 in collected fines.
British Columbia had 709 tickets between January and August last year, but only some fully paid their fines, according to the province.
Per the data provided by Ontario's justice department, over 1,700 tickets have either been denied or cancelled or remain in progress. Another 638 tickets face ongoing legal disputes in court, leaving more than $3.5 million in outstanding fines.
In New Brunswick, 15 of the 34 tickets issued in 2021 and 2022 have been withdrawn, while another 11 are outstanding. Whereas Manitoba's data from April 2020 to December 2022 uncovered 94 of the 345 active tickets remain unpaid.
While law enforcement has levied $9.3 million in fines for violating provincial and federal rules, only roughly $905,000 has been collected.
Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the territories did not track this data because those jurisdictions did not adopt the legislation required to levy fines for COVID-19 infractions. In Quebec, provincial prosecutors directly issued fines to offenders without federal involvement.