The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) announced yesterday that a federal court has released a decision on its efforts to seek an interim injunction against the controversial federal quarantine hotel facilities. Although presiding Justice William Pentney did not grant the JCCF the interim injunction it was seeking, the result does not mean the end for legal challenges against the quarantine policy.
Arguing on behalf of nine clients who had been detained in the facilities, the JCCF was seeking to use the judiciary to bring an immediate halt to the mandatory quarantine of travellers arriving to Canada by air travel. The JCCF argued that these rules put them in danger and were in violation of their clients' Charter rights, adding that these law-abiding individuals could have safely quarantined at home.
In response, the Government of Canada argued that travellers being forced to incur extra expenses because of the restrictions is not a basis to suspend important public health measures, given the threats presented by new COVID variants of concern.
Dismissing the requested injunction, Justice Pentney said that any harm to the JCCF clients' Charter rights from a temporary stay at a hotel was not a “sufficient basis to suspend a significant public health measure that is based on the advice of scientific experts, and seeks to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants into Canada.”
The suggestion that these individuals could have safely quarantined at home, Justice Pentney said, did not take into account the one or two per cent of air travellers who had a negative COVID-19 test prior to their departure who nevertheless tested positive upon their arrival in Canada. Justice Pentney also pointed out that “individuals in quarantine continued to pose a risk of spreading the virus by their contact with others.”
“The risk of importing one of the more transmissible and more dangerous COVID-19 variants is demonstrably significant,” the judge wrote.
“Based on the evidence before me, I conclude that it would not be just or equitable to suspend the operation of the challenged quarantine measures pending the determination of the merits of the Applicants' Charter claim.”
One area where the court did unequivocally side with the JCCF was in its assertion that “in a time of emergency, the role of an independent judiciary in safeguarding Charter rights and freedoms takes on additional importance.”
Ultimately, however, the court did not rule on the claims that the restrictions placed on air travellers were a violation of sections 7 and 9 — the right to life, liberty and security of person and the right not to be arbitrarily detained — of the Charter. That decision will be made at a later trial.
The full hearing on the constitutionality of quarantine hotels and facilities put forward by the JCCF is scheduled to be heard on June 1 through June 3.
Litigation director for the JCCF Jay Cameron described the isolation of returning Canadian air travellers as “arbitrary, unnecessary and totalitarian.”
“These quarantine hotels and restrictive measures are more consistent with a dictatorship than a free society. We look forward to the full hearing of these issues in early June,” Cameron said.