Non-essential travel ban could be difficult to implement: advocate

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WATCH: The Quebec premier has gotten people talking about the need to travel during the pandemic. François Legault wants Ottawa to ban non-essential international travel in the name of public health but as Global’s Raquel Fletcher reports, it might not be as easy as that – Jan 20, 2021

Quebec Premier François Legault has called for Ottawa to ban non-essential international travel in the name of public health, but it might not be as easy as that.

Legault said international vacations should be banned during the pandemic.

Read more: Quebec premier urges feds to ban non-essential international flights to fight COVID-19

“An all-included package to Punta Cana, do we really need to have those trips right now?” Legault asked rhetorically during a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Montreal.

While many may agree, determining what is essential — and what isn’t essential — travel, could prove complicated.

“I have concerns about whether it’s legally feasible, whether it’s something that’s practically feasible,” said Gabor Lukacs, president of advocacy group Air Passenger Rights.

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He asks: would a judge have to make the call? Would it require a government permit to travel? There’s also the constitutional issue — Canadians have the right to leave and re-enter the country.

Read more: Holiday travellers stuck at Dominican Republic resort due to difficulty getting COVID-19 tests

The federal government has made leisure travel less attractive. Last week, Global News spoke to families stuck in the Dominican Republic. One family is still there because they are unable to get COVID-19 test results within the 72-hour time limit as required by new rules brought in after Christmas.

However, had they decided to cancel their trip, they would not have been reimbursed.

“They wouldn’t give me a voucher for what I paid for the vacation. I would have just lost the money,” said Moira Coutu.

Lukacs said this should not be the case: “If they are willing to do the right thing and give up their vacation they should be reimbursed.”

Read more: Consumer advocates call for airline refunds amid coronavirus pandemic

Canadian airline companies point out that travel only accounts for about one per cent of COVID-19 cases.

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“There has been an enormous amount of attention dedicated to it over the last few weeks,” wrote Debbie Cabana, a spokesperson for Air Transat in an email to Global News. “Perhaps part of that attention should be redirected to the factors that contribute to 99% of COVID-19 infections.”

She said that if the government does ban travel, “at least that would be a clearer stance than urging Canadians not to travel … You cannot ask a company fighting for survival to continue to operate all while taking away its customers.”

She added that if a ban is put in place, the government should provide financial aid to the airline industry.