Canadian police are to begin visiting homes to enforce the government’s COVID-19 quarantine, the RCMP said on Friday, warning that “recklessly” failing to comply could result in a $1-million fine and three years in prison.
The RCMP said it had been asked by the Public Health Agency of Canada to help with national coordination and enforcement of the March 25 Quarantine Act Order that requires everyone arriving in Canada to stay home for 14 days.
Officers will speak to those under quarantine and advise them of the “potential consequences of non-compliance,” the police force said in a statement that cautioned violators could face “significant penalties, including fines and imprisonment.”
The maximum fine for failing to comply with the quarantine is $750,000 and up to six months in prison, but those who put others at risk could face harsher penalties: up to a $1-million levy and three years imprisonment.
“Arrests would be a last resort, based on the circumstance and the officer’s risk assessment,” the RCMP said. Instead, police can issue those charged with a notice or summons requiring them to appear in court.
“Choosing to ignore mandatory isolation and quarantine orders is not only against the law, it’s also putting citizens, first responders, health professionals and the most vulnerable at risk of exposure to the virus,” said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.
Checks will “generally be limited to persons who, after PHAC has done initial verifications by phone, text or e-mail, may require a physical verification by police,” the RCMP statement said.
But enforcement will focus on “education and encouragement,” it said, adding “RCMP officers will attempt to conduct physical verification with the individual while maintaining physical distancing.”
Police forces across the country have issued hundreds of tickets and even made arrests in some cases after people violated quarantine orders or social-distancing rules.
Today’s announcement could add clarity to questions about who is responsible for enforcing the Quarantine Act.
“We don’t have enforcement powers,” North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said on Monday after a couple had reportedly been deliberately violating the 14-day self-isolation rules after returning to B.C. from abroad.
“All we can do is knock on the door give them a visit, and tell them basically what the rules are.”
The RCMP said it was “playing a coordination role for all Canadian law enforcement by ensuring the appropriate police of jurisdiction is provided with the information required to conduct physical verification of compliance with the Order, including taking any enforcement actions deemed appropriate by the police of jurisdiction.”
One of the country’s first arrests over COVID-19 came in Quebec on March 20 when police arrested a woman who was infected with the virus and who was walking around outside after being mandated to stay in self-isolation.
Premier Francois Legault, who declared a public health emergency March 14, had given authorities sweeping powers to make arrests if someone jeopardizes the health and safety of others. The order came more than a week before Ottawa announced it was enforcing the Quarantine Act.
“It’s a question of respect. The rights of individuals stop when the impact of the community is very high,” Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s chief medical officer, told reporters on March 21.
The Canada Border Services Agency is also playing a role in enforcing quarantines, the agency’s president testified last week.
John Ossowski told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health the CBSA was creating “temporary lookouts” in its system to help the Public Health Agency ensure that returning travellers complied with the 14-day self-isolation requirement.
“Lookouts will not be issued on all asymptomatic travellers, but rather on those the CBSA believes may not have respected the requirement to self-isolate and have given indications that they may be unwilling to comply,” he said.
“The CBSA will notify the Public Health Agency every time it encounters an individual who it believes has failed to comply with the order to self-isolate. The lookout information will be maintained for a period of 14 days.”
The information is also shared with United States Customs and Border Protection, he said.
In Saskatchewan, Regina police said officers issued their first ticket on April 6 for a violation of the province’s public health order during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A 23-year-old woman, who ultimately tested positive for the virus, was given a $2,800 ticket after she failed to comply with a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period, police said in a statement.
And in Ontario, a 21-year-old Belleville man is facing an $880 fine after he allegedly organized a party in a parking lot that police said intentionally ignored social-distancing regulations.
The federal government said it was deploying the Quarantine Act to fight the spread of the virus after officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, became frustrated with the number of Canadians failing to listen to public health officials.