Lockdowns, curfew, stay-at-home order: What’s next in Canada’s COVID-19 fight?

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Police hand out hundreds of tickets in Quebec within first 48 hours of curfew
WATCH: Police hand out hundreds of tickets in Quebec within first 48 hours of curfew – Jan 11, 2021
Provinces across Canada have implemented strict lockdowns in order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Quebec has implemented curfews, Ontario has issued a stay-at-home order and a few Atlantic provinces have restricted travel.

However, as cases continue to soar, some are left wondering if stricter measures need to be implemented — especially in Ontario where the province recorded a new single-day record of 3,945 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the province issued a state of emergency and a stay-at-home order, which means all Ontario residents must stay at home except for essential reasons.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, argued that from a public health point of view, restricting travel between provinces will help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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“From a public health standpoint, I think travel is an incredibly unsafe thing to do,” he said. “You get sick, and then you go back to your region and spread it.”

He said regions in Canada that have managed to curtail coronavirus infections, like Newfoundland and Labrador, have restricted travel. And larger provinces, although logistically more difficult to do, may have to start following suit, he said.

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Coronavirus: Ontario health official says worst-case scenario would see 40,000 cases a day by mid-February

In the spring, Newfoundland and Labrador passed legislation banning anyone but permanent residents and asymptomatic workers in key sectors from entering the province. So did Prince Edward Island.

So what about banning travel in Canada’s largest provinces, such as Alberta, Ontario and Quebec?

In November, British Columbia Premier John Horgan called for the federal government to restrict non-essential travel across the country (but not inter-provincial travel).

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Horgan asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to push premiers to put in bans on vacation, recreational travel, and travel to visit loved ones.

“We need to make sure that people in Coquitlam are living under the same rules as people in Chicoutimi,” Horgan said.

“I am not requesting the federal government to impose anything on any other jurisdiction in Canada. I am asking the federal government to work with us and other provincial governments to get the message out that if you do not have to travel between jurisdictions you shouldn’t do so.”

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British Columbia does not have a ban in place for non-essential travel.

Travel restrictions aren’t just limited to parts of Canada.

In Australia’s southeast state of Victoria, the government recently closed its borders to those coming from the identified COVID-19 hot spots around the island nation, such as Sydney. It’s not the first time the country imposed travel restrictions in order to stop the spread of the virus.

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Click to play video: 'What Canada can learn from Australia’s success with COVID-19'
What Canada can learn from Australia’s success with COVID-19

At the end of June, Australia saw a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases, mainly in the state of Victoria, which is home to the nation’s second-largest city of Melbourne.

Melbourne was put under a strict lockdown for months. Residents were not allowed to leave the city without a valid reason. The government said people who chose to cross the border into another region could be fined or jailed for up to six months.

Over the holidays, Italy (on top of imposing a curfew) barred from travelling between regions except for work, health or emergency reasons.  Residents were not allowed to leave their home towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

‘Too extreme’

Canadians have a legal right to travel from province to province, so there has been a reluctance to limit travel between provinces.

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Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s (CCLA) fundamental freedoms program, worries that implementing more travel restrictions across the country would violate our Charter of Rights and Freedom.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states every citizen has the right to enter, remain in and leave the country, and has the right to move to, and take up residence in, any province.

“It’s too extreme and too difficult to enforce. At this stage in the pandemic I am not sure what benefit it would be,” she said. She added that forced self-isolation, like what Nova Scotia has in place, is a “less restrictive” way to help curb the spread of the virus.

Zwibel, who challenged Newfoundland and Labrador’s Supreme Court travel decision, said these travel restrictions fall outside provincial jurisdiction.

In May, Halifax resident Kim Taylor and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a claim challenging the province’s travel ban. Taylor was denied the opportunity to travel to Newfoundland after her mother died suddenly.

A lawyer for the province argued Newfoundland and Labrador had the constitutional authority to enact the policy because the ban addresses an issue of public health, placing it “squarely within provincial jurisdiction.”

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The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador agreed and upheld the travel restrictions.

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Despite the loss, the judge ruling on the case admitted the travel restrictions violate Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allows Canadians to move freely through the country. But the judge said the ban is protected by Section 1, which allows reasonable exemptions to the charter.

Zwibel said they are in the process of appealing the decision.

She said Newfoundland and Labrador, and even Prince Edward Island, are in a unique position in terms of their geography, allowing the provinces an easier ability to monitor who’s coming in and out.

But it’s much more difficult in other provinces, like Ontario and Quebec, with large land borders to really police who’s coming and going, she added.

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“We have people who live in one province and work in another, or have to travel in order for child care reasons,” she said. “So there’s a lot of these consequences on people that flow from restriction travel.”

Furness acknowledged that the logistics around banning travel in large provinces are difficult, but he said as cases continue to soar, it may need to be implemented.

“The Atlantic provinces to open a public health approach. They just acted swiftly and they acted decisively and restrictively and they’re doing extremely well as a result,” he said.

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