Canada’s controversial hotel quarantine requirement for international air passengers has been scrapped. But it remains a thorn in the side of those who defied the rules, got fined and plan to fight their fine in court.
Thelma Perry, 80, and her husband, Glen, 87, of Barrie, Ont., are anxiously waiting for their day in court.
On July 4, the fully vaccinated couple got hit with $12,510 in fines at Pearson International Airport in Toronto for refusing to quarantine in a hotel. They were ticketed about two hours before the federal government ended the hotel quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers.
“That was outrageous,” Thelma Perry said. “We’re going to fight it. I want the judge to hear me out, because I don’t think this ticket is fair.”
The couple flew to Toronto after spending about six months doing missionary work with several interdenominational churches in Jamaica.
Perry said she and Glen didn’t know about Canada’s hotel quarantine requirement before they travelled home. When they were informed at the Toronto airport they must check into a hotel, the couple refused.
Perry said they felt safer doing their full 14-day quarantine at their house, especially after hearing from other passengers at the airport that some quarantine hotels had been hit with COVID-19 outbreaks.
“I have my nice home here,” Perry said. “I want to stay safe, and I don’t want to go to the hotel and mix with that crowd.”
Thelma and Glen were each fined $6,255: $5,000 for the violation, plus added fees.
Their daughter, Joan Trensch of Barrie, said the fines total roughly half her parents’ yearly combined pension income.
“How can they live on what they live on and then pay this fine?” Trensch said.
More than 4,000 fines issued
From Feb. 22 to July 4, the government mandated that all non-essential air passengers to Canada take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and spend part of their quarantine in a designated hotel — at their own expense — to wait for their test results.
According to government data, Ottawa issued more than 4,000 fines to travellers who refused to quarantine in hotels.
CBC News interviewed four other Canadians who were also fined and are waiting to fight their fines in court.
“The reason we refused to go [to a hotel] was because no one had been living at our house for six months. So we were going home to an empty, clean house,” said snowbird Lori-Lynn Marvin of Minesing, Ont.
Following a flight home from Mexico on June 12, Marvin and her husband each received a $6,255 fine at the Toronto airport. She said they are contesting their fines.
“I don’t feel like I did anything wrong.”
The federal government introduced the hotel quarantine requirement to help stop the spread of COVID-19, including more contagious variants. But the rules quickly sparked criticism.
Several travellers complained to CBC News about what they considered lax COVID-19 safety measures at the quarantine hotels, including crowded waiting areas and quarantining guests freely leaving their hotel rooms.
The hotel quarantine mandate fell under additional scrutiny in May when CBC News reported that several travellers who refused to quarantine in a hotel said they had never been fined.
That same month, a government advisory panel report concluded that the hotel quarantine program was flawed and unnecessary and recommended it be scrapped.
On July 5, the government began allowing fully vaccinated travellers to skip quarantine, including the quarantine hotel. On Aug. 9, Ottawa ended the hotel requirement for all travellers.
Despite nixing the hotel quarantine requirement, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said travellers who had defied that rule must still pay their fines.
“Payment remains due for tickets that are not contested, or for contested tickets that result in a guilty finding,” PHAC spokesperson Eric Morrissette said in an email.
“The consequences for non-payment vary by province but can include different [debt] collection mechanisms.”
Morrissette said PHAC ended the hotel quarantine program because of a steady increase in Canada’s vaccination rate and people’s continued adherence to COVID-19 public health measures.
Public offers to pay the Perrys’ fines
In July, Trensch contacted the family’s MP in Barrie, Conservative John Brassard, to ask for help with her parents’ case.
Brassard, who is currently seeking re-election, sent a letter to Health Minister Patty Hajdu on July 13 requesting that Glen and Thelma’s fines be dropped. He said he never received a response.
PHAC told CBC News it couldn’t comment on the Perrys’ case, except to say that their only recourse is to contest their fines.
Brassard said he also alerted a local publication, Barrie Today, about the couple’s situation. He said that following media coverage of their plight, more than a dozen people contacted Brassard’s office offering to either pay the couple’s fines or set up a GoFundMe site to raise the necessary funds.
“I was overwhelmed by the amount of support that they were receiving from right across the country: people offering to step up — pay it,” Brassard said.
While they were touched by the offers of support, Thelma and Glen decided they didn’t want to take other people’s money. Instead, they want to have their day in court.
“I want to prove a point to [the government],” Perry said. “They have their rights, and I have my rights, too.”