What you need to know about the Quarantine Act

Hundreds of Canadians stranded in Wuhan, China — the epicentre of the global novel coronavirus outbreak — will soon be back in Canada, but under unusual conditions. Invoking powers granted under the Quarantine Act, the federal government will isolate the new arrivals at an Ontario military base for 14 days, which is the incubation period for the new coronavirus. Here’s a closer look at the legislation:

Has Canada always had a Quarantine Act?

According to the federal government, a piece of legislation bearing the same name went into effect shortly after confederation in 1872, but was left largely unchanged for more than a century. After the deadly SARS outbreak of 2003, however, the government acted on a recommendation to beef up the legislation. The act as we know it today received royal ascent in 2005.

What’s allowed under act?

The legislation gives the federal health minister sweeping powers to stop the spread of communicable diseases either in or out of Canada. Those measures include everything from routine screenings conducted by quarantine officers at airports to the sort of isolation expected to take effect later this week when Canadians return from Wuhan, China and settle in for a 14-day detention at a military base in Trenton, Ont.

“The Quarantine Act is always active. It’s being used all the time,” says Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a global health law professor at York University. “It’s just not always used in a very public way.”

Hoffman says the act technically empowers the government to make use of any building they see fit and designate it as a quarantine site, including private homes. Using a military facility, he says, allows Ottawa to centralize screening and potential treatment for the roughly 250 people expected to return to Canada this week while limiting the strain on potentially overtaxed health-care resources.

“It’s accessing a different part of the government’s apparatus and not putting any additional burden on the hospitals that are already quite busy at this time of year,” he says.

Does the government have any obligations under the act?

The legislation gives the government a fair bit of latitude to do whatever they feel is necessary to stop the spread of a disease that could pose a public health risk, Hoffman says.

“They’re not in prison,” he says of the people under quarantine. ”The government, under the act, is supposed to take steps to make it as least intrusive as possible, but what exactly that means, there is some discretion.”

A letter the government sent to those slated to fly from Wuhan later this week says they will not be allowed to see friends and family for the duration of their 14-day quarantine. Hoffman says the government is not obliged to provide technology that would enable those under quarantine to communicate with the outside world, but he adds federal officials may do so on the strength of international research. He says studies conducted during an Ebola outbreak showed people were more likely to comply with quarantine orders if they had the means of contacting friends and family.

What happens if someone violates the Quarantine Act?

Hoffman says the legislation contains a wide range of penalties for those flouting the law. Someone violating direct instructions and potentially placing the public at risk of a communicable disease, he says, can face a fine of up to $1 million and as many as three years in prison.

Is detaining Canadians an unusual step?

Yes. Hoffman says it’s the first time the act has been deployed to this extent since coming into effect. He says federal officials could have simply ordered Canadians returning from China to self-isolate at home and hope for the best, but are clearly opting for an “abundance of caution approach” instead. Hoffman calls this particular use of the act “very appropriate,” noting that such a measure may also help stem the tide of anxiety and misinformation related to the new coronavirus.

How are other countries handling the situation?

International health authorities have documented more than 180 coronavirus cases in two dozen countries outside mainland China. While some countries have taken extraordinary steps, such as barring the entry of non-citizens, quarantine measures have been fairly consistent. Countries including the United States, Australia, India and South Korea have placed people returning from Wuhan and surrounding areas under quarantine for two weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2020.

Source: Government of Canada, The Associated Press, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer tailor sets up a factory to begin producing PPE for health care and industry workers

Esmat Bayat is glad to give back to the country that sheltered him as a refugee

August most popular month for vehicle thefts, RCMP warn

10,000 vehicles stolen in Alberta last year

Alberta government announces $48M to support homeless during pandemic

EDMONTON — The Alberta government has announced $48 million in funding for… Continue reading

Calgary Zoo worried about giant pandas as bamboo supply running out

CALGARY — Time and food supplies are running out for two giant… Continue reading

Protestors for Indigenous Lives Matter gather in Wetaskiwin

Protestors gathered along 56 St Wetaskiwin, Alta. August 4, 2020 for Indigenous Lives Matter.

Trump relying on October Surprise

An October Surprise in the United States is now almost inevitable, because… Continue reading

Lebanese confront devastation after massive Beirut explosion

BEIRUT — Residents of Beirut confronted a scene of utter devastation Wednesday,… Continue reading

David Marsden: Back-to-school plan makes sense

Albertans are wise to propose ways to improve students’ return to classrooms… Continue reading

Michael Dawe: 1971’s destructive hailstorm shattered a great summer

Alberta has been experiencing some interesting summer weather this year. Generally, there… Continue reading

Pete Hamill, legendary New York columnist, has died

NEW YORK — Pete Hamill, the self-taught, street-wise newspaper columnist whose love… Continue reading

Disney to release ‘Mulan’ on streaming service, for a price

“Mulan” is no longer headed for a major theatrical release. The Walt… Continue reading

Wall Street opens higher, following gains in overseas stocks

NEW YORK — Stocks are opening solidly higher on Wall Street, following… Continue reading

The Latest: Norway offers $2.74 and medical aid to Lebanon

BEIRUT — The Latest on the explosion in Beirut (all times local):… Continue reading

Most Read