B.C. couple flouts quarantine rules, highlighting gaps in COVID-19 enforcement

Travellers returning to Canada are legally required to isolate for 14 days after their arrival. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A Cowichan Valley couple that has been flouting quarantine rules since recently returning from international travel has shown there are still gaps to fill in COVID-19 enforcement, according to a local mayor.

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said the the couple returned to Canada after the federal government invoked the Quarantine Act on March 25, which legally requires travellers to isolate for 14 days upon arrival.

READ MORE: How is Canada planning to enforce mandatory self-isolation?

“They basically told our bylaw enforcement officers, ‘Sorry, but we’re just not going to do that,'” said Siebring.

“We don’t have enforcement powers, all we can do is knock on the door give them a visit, and tell them basically what the rules are.”

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Siebring declined to identify the couple, citing privacy and noting that their personal information was in the hands of bylaw officers, not the mayor’s office.

He said the community asked for help with enforcement from the province, but got nowhere.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Federal ministers outline process for new mandatory quarantine practices'
Coronavirus outbreak: Federal ministers outline process for new mandatory quarantine practices

Because the Quarantine Act is a federal law, enforcement is actually a responsibility of the RCMP.

In a briefing Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledged the B.C. RCMP was still working out “protocols” around enforcing the act.

On Monday, Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said they had been in close communication with the federal government about toughening enforcement for returning travellers.

READ MORE: Spot a COVIDIOT? Here’s how to report coronavirus rule-breakers

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Dix has voiced growing frustration in recent days with the way quarantine measures are being enacted at points of entry such as the Vancouver International Airport and B.C.’s land borders.

“It’s absolutely important right now, critical, that everyone comply 100 per cent with her orders and with the orders of the federal government under the Quarantine Act in particular,” said Dix.

“We think we’re being heard on this point and hope we can announce soon joint measures with Canada to make sure the federal program becomes not just announcement but reality and provides concrete protection as soon as possible.”

According to the federal government, violating the quarantine act could result in a penalty of six months in jail and or a fine of up to $750,000.

Properly isolating returning travellers is of key importance to B.C. health officials, as the province shows early signs of progress in shutting down the spread COVID-19.

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Tens of thousands of Canadians stranded in India

Those gains could be put at risk as Canada repatriates travellers stuck on cruise ships or trapped by the thousands in countries like India and Peru. As of Friday, there were nearly 400,000 Canadians abroad who had registered with Global Affairs.

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Siebring said he was heartened to hear provincial health officials acknowledge gaps in enforcement of the measures.

He added that he was pleased to see B.C. redeploying liquor and cannabis inspectors to help bylaw officers enforce provincial public health orders.

“This is an order, it’s not a suggestion, it’s the law,” he said.

“Now we just need to make sure the law is properly enforced.”

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