COVID-19: What Albertan’s Need To Know About The Alberta And Federal Government Measures To Enforce Social Distancing, The Exceptions, And The Consequences For Breach
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal government has issued Emergency Orders under the Quarantine Act, revamped after the SARS epidemic hit Ontario in 2003. There are many measures and powers listed under the Act, but the key ones Canadians entering the country during this pandemic must follow are:
- Self-isolate for 14 days after returning from any international destination, including the USA;
- Go directly to their place of isolation;
- Not use public transit to get to your place of isolation; and
- If symptomatic, are subject to quarantine at the city of arrival into Canada.
Moreover, if you are entering Canada from abroad, you must:
- Present yourself to a customs officer, who will ask you a number of health-related questions;
- Respond truthfully; and
- Provide follow up contact information to allow authorities to conduct follow up checks and ensure that you are complying with the quarantine order.
If you are not symptomatic, and are cleared by Customs, you may leave the customs area only after agreeing to self-isolate for 14 days. You must take the quickest route home. You cannot stop for groceries and other necessities.
Practically speaking, all these restrictions create a number of barriers for individuals returning home from long trips abroad. The restrictions may be particularly difficult for those who do not have family or friends to assist them with the delivery of necessities, and cannot access commercial delivery services.
This would especially impact elderly Canadians, and those who have been away for work, school, or long winter trips. Canada has also restricted its points of entry for international flights to Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal international airports. If a Canadian finds themselves symptomatic and in a different province than their home, they will be forced to quarantine in that province until cleared for further travel.
The exception to the federal isolation mandate applies to you if you are a healthy and essential worker. That is, your cross-border travel must be for the purpose of work essential to the movement of goods and people. This would include:
- airline staff,
- marine crew members,
- truck drivers,
- healthcare providers, and
- critical infrastructure workers.
If you are one of these workers, but become symptomatic, you will be subject to the same federal self-isolation orders as non-essential workers.
In all instances, it is very important to follow the direction of Customs/Screening Officers, and Quarantine Officers at all points of entry into Canada. These officers have broad powers of investigation and detention.
Failure to comply, or being dishonest, may result in further charges, such as Obstruction of Justice under the Quarantine Act, with a maximum sentence of:
- $500,000 fine; and
- Three years of imprisonment
During these screenings, it is not an option to remain silent, nor to refuse to comply with the directions of the investigators. You should, however, be entitled to be advised of your right to contact a lawyer. If you are unsure about whether to cooperate with the screening, take advantage of the opportunity to consult with a lawyer to understand what your rights and obligations are based on your unique circumstances.
Federal Penalties For Not Complying With The Quarantine Act
You may be charged with an offence for not adhering to the strict obligations imposed under the Quarantine Act.
If you are charged and convicted of contravening the Act, you may receive:
- a range of fines up to $750,000 and/or
- up to a six month jail sentence.
However, if the authorities believe that you have acted in a manner that has recklessly put another person’s health at risk, even greater penalties may be levied pursuant to the Quarantine Act:
67 (1) Every person is guilty of an offence if they cause a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while wilfully or recklessly contravening this Act or the regulations.
(2) Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is liable
(a) on conviction on indictment, to a fine of not more than $1,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than three years, or to both; and
(b) on summary conviction, to a fine of not more than $300,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both.
Thus, if the Crown can prove that a quarantined individual recklessly or wilfully contravened their quarantine obligations AND put another individual at risk of death or bodily harm, they may be:
- fined up to $1,000,000 and/or
- be imprisoned for up to three years.
In addition to the extremely steep fines and jail time that may be imposed, other consequences will also follow from a conviction under the Quarantine Act. If convicted of these offences, you may face additional barriers and restrictions in the future. Although these are not Criminal Code offences, they will likely appear on vulnerable sector background checks. A conviction may prevent you from travelling to the USA for business or leisure.
Alberta’s Provincial Obligations And Restrictions In Response To Covid-19
In Alberta, the provincial government has used the Public Health Act to impose increasingly strict Public Health Orders in response to COVID-19. Albertans are currently subject to a number of Public Health Order restrictions. A complete list of Public Health Orders and exceptions can be found here.
For travellers, the provincial restrictions overlap with the federal quarantine orders currently in place, as discussed above. Albertans are further subject to isolation orders if experiencing flu-like symptoms, or are in close contact with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Alberta government has also imposed greater social distancing measures on residents. Albertans are currently prohibited from gathering in groups, whether in their home or outdoors. Any gatherings, even at home, require a 2 metre distance be maintained by everyone except members of the same household. For up to date limits on the amount of people allowed to gather, and on exceptions, visit the list of Public Health Orders, listed above.
Alberta Businesses are also currently subject to a number of restrictions and possible closures. Almost all retail and restaurants have had their publicly accessible spaces closed down, allowing only customer pick-ups.
Most non-essential personal and health services must close entirely.
Essential businesses may still remain fully operational. The Province has published a list of essential businesses.
Additionally, Albertans may be able to apply to the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health for an exemption that allows their business to remain operational.
Penalties For Not Complying With Alberta’s Public Health Orders
In the pre-COVID-19 era, if an individual violated a Public Health Order in Alberta, a maximum fine of $100 per day was imposed. As reports of continued large gatherings and individuals breaking mandatory self-isolation spread through social media and news outlets in March, the provincial government announced that they would take more stringent measures. On March 27, 2020, the Procedures Regulation was amended to add a special section for violating the Alberta’s Public Health Act as follows:
Part 19.01 Public Health Act
1 The specified penalty payable by an individual in respect of a contravention of an order of a medical officer of health under Part 3 of the Public Health Act is $1000.
Albertans not complying with Public Health Orders may now be charged with a specified $1,000 fine for each occurrence. This charge is comparable to a traffic ticket. The officer will provide a ticket stating:
- what section was contravened,
- the fine amount, and
- a date and time you must attend Court
If you do not attend Court on that date to seek an extension of the fine payment or plead not guilty, you will be convicted in absence. Fortunately, this type of charge will not appear on a vulnerable sector background check, or at border services while you are travelling, but the fine is still quite significant.
Possible Criminal Penalties
Given what we know so far of the seriousness and spread of COVID-19, it may be that individuals intentionally exposing the public to the virus could face Criminal Code sanctions as well.
Instances of police using such measures already exist. For example, an individual who has been infected with the HIV virus, and who poses a demonstrably high risk of transmission to uninfected individuals must disclose this to their sexual partners. If they do not, and their partners are infected with the HIV virus, they may be charged with aggravated assault (hyperlink). Currently, there are no cases in Canada where the same has occurred with the COVID-19 virus or a similar influenza virus.
Threatening to infect someone with COVID-19 can result in criminal charges, such as Threats.
There has already been a case of a person pretending to have COVID to avoid going to work which led to criminal charges.
Even a practical joke can result in criminal charges of Mischief: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/02/03/coronavirus-plane-prank/
As the pandemic grows, it is possible for law enforcement to resort to further criminal charges against individuals, especially those who intentionally cause or threaten transmission to another person.
What To Do If You Have Been Charged With Contravening One Of Alberta’s Federal Quarantine Act Or One Of Alberta’s Public Health Order
As discussed, these types of cases can be very complex and fact specific.
We have tried our best to provide a general outline of what you can expect if you find yourself in this situation. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
To learn more about how we can help, please contact our team of regulatory and criminal defence lawyers to conduct a thorough review of your situation so that we can custom tailor a strategy to maximize your chances of a successful defence.