I'm not going to read all the rules.
This is the 19th meeting of the public safety committee of the House of Commons, pursuant to a motion adopted on March 1 and subsequently amended, on the safety and security of passengers required to stay in federally mandated quarantine facilities.
As I say, it's in a hybrid format.
I'm going to welcome the two ministers, Minister Hajdu and Minister Blair. They will introduce their staff as they see fit.
If I may invoke the mercy rule, please make the remarks five minutes or less. We are already an hour and a half behind where we should be, and this is a scheduled three-hour meeting.
With that, may I ask either Minister Blair or Minister Hajdu to proceed, in whatever order they choose?
Mr. Chair, the decision was made that I would begin, so I will.
Thank you, honourable committee members, for the kind invitation to join you here today. We appreciate your efforts to review the measures that have been put in place, particularly at our borders, to keep Canadians safe.
I would like to also begin, if I may, Mr. Chair, by expressing my deep concern about the very serious allegations of assault that took place at a quarantine hotel and during a quarantine compliance check. The events that are alleged are criminal in nature. They must be thoroughly investigated. Perpetrators must be held to account. I can assure this committee that I understand that these matters are being investigated by the police of jurisdiction and that our agencies, particularly the RCMP, will provide support in that ongoing investigation as required.
While I can't comment on specific elements of any operation, I am joined today by Commissioner Lucki and President Ossowski, as well as my deputy minister, Rob Stewart, to provide any additional insight members may require. However, if I may, let me briefly talk about some of the measures that we have put in place.
As you will recall, last March we introduced the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for the country, and recently we have implemented additional measures and testing requirements for travellers arriving in Canada both by land and by air. All of these measures have been implemented in order to slow down the spread of the virus, and we have put these restrictions in place to help prevent further importation of the virus and new variants.
I'll briefly speak about the role that the CBSA plays in these measures. I'm pleased to tell you that since we introduced the requirement for travellers to show proof of a valid pre-arrival COVID-19 test, there has been an overall 59% drop in international travel by air. Of those international travellers arriving by air, Mr. Chair, over 99% have been compliant with the mandatory pre-arrival testing requirement.
I think that bears repeating: 99% have been compliant. I've been involved in the law enforcement business for a long time, and it's a very rare thing to see that level of compliance. I think it's a testament to the commitment that Canadians have made—even those who are travelling for non-essential purposes—to keep themselves and their communities safe.
To be clear, throughout all of our actions, the health and safety and security of Canadians has been our utmost priority. Our temporary border measures have been essential to keeping Canadians safe, and we continue to strongly advise against travel outside of Canada.
CBSA officers in all of these measures have been at the very forefront of Canada's COVID-19 response since the beginning of the pandemic. I believe that they have responded to the challenge, quickly adapted to new border and health measures, and have done, quite frankly, an extraordinary job in helping to keep Canadians safe. They apply over 90 acts and regulations, in addition to all of the provisions of the orders in council established by the government to respond to the pandemic. They share, clearly, our collective commitment to keeping Canadians safe.
They screen all travellers upon entry. They are vigilant, professional and responsive to the needs of Canadians. They collect contact information on behalf of the Public Health Agency of Canada. They confirm the suitability of quarantine plans for each traveller, and before any decision is made to allow a traveller to enter Canada, they review the traveller's unique circumstances, the purposes of the trip and the documents presented.
As designated screening officers, they have the authority to review, challenge and confirm travellers' statements, and when any questions arise regarding a traveller's quarantine plan, they are directed to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which makes the final determination. Once the traveller is then admitted into Canada, the responsibility to monitor and track the individual from a public health perspective falls within the mandate of the Public Health Agency, supported with information and data provided by the CBSA. This includes all decisions with respect to the pursuit of any enforcement action.
It is important to point out, Mr. Chair, that because quarantine remains one of our most effective measures, the enforcement measures are the responsibility of the police of jurisdiction. Health and enforcement officers are in regular contact with travellers to ensure that they are in compliance with the quarantine orders. We work very closely with provincial, territorial and municipal partners to enforce these measures. The enhanced presence of border services officers and public health officers is effective, and it's helping to ensure that travellers understand their quarantine requirements.
The RCMP work very closely, as well, with the Public Health Agency of Canada. They play a coordination role for all Canadian law enforcement, and they are ensuring that the appropriate police of jurisdiction are provided with the information required to conduct physical verification of compliance with quarantine orders.
Mr. Chair, we will continue to work very collaboratively in upholding these measures. Our quarantine measures, in my opinion, have been the most effective response to protect Canadians from the spread of COVID. We have rigorously enforced them, and they will continue to be in place as long as they are required.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I have with me today Iain Stewart, who is the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Associate Deputy Minister Harpreet Kochhar, who is the lead on this file.
From very early days, a very important part of Canada's COVID-19 containment strategy has been mandatory quarantine requirements. They're an essential part of our strategy.
Last month, the Government of Canada established additional border measures to quarantine international travellers arriving in Canada by land or air. As of February 22, travellers arriving by air are required to stay in government-authorized accommodation for up to three nights while they await the results of the COVID-19 molecular test they take on arrival.
These accommodations are different from the designated quarantine facilities, which are operated by the Public Health Agency of Canada and are generally used to accommodate symptomatic travellers or those without an appropriate location to quarantine themselves.
The requirement to stay in a government-authorized accommodation or at a designated quarantine facility is an important public health measure, and it is an important component of protecting Canadians from the importation of COVID-19 and the variants.
Our experts and scientists constantly and carefully monitor COVID-19 outbreaks across Canada and indeed the world. We understand the risks, and we're taking this situation seriously. Every public health measure that we have taken is an important approach to protect Canadians from the virus.
Protecting the health and safety of Canadians has been our top priority as we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Government of Canada has established strict quarantine and travel measures to reduce the importation and spread of COVID-19, and recently the introduction of variants into our country.
We know the virus is changing and shifting. It's very important for our country to be able to monitor how that virus is changing and what additional threat it poses to Canadians. Canada's mandatory quarantine program is an essential part of our COVID-19 strategy.
Canadians have made important sacrifices to tackle COVID-19, including curtailing international travel. We are receiving more vaccines every day, and that is good news. We are at a critical inflection point in our fight against COVID-19, and we need to keep following public health measures and remain vigilant.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has federal employees on site and has increased the number of security personnel at designated quarantine facilities to help provide a safe and secure environment. We are in daily contact to support our partners in delivering the mandatory quarantine sites.
For that reason, Mr. Chair and honourable members, this is not the time to suspend federally mandated quarantine measures.
I want to thank Canadians for the incredible sacrifices they have been making to protect each other from COVID-19, including curtailing non-essential travel.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister Hajdu.
Minister Blair or Minister Hajdu, perhaps you can walk us all through the procedure, the step-by-step of when someone decides to enter Canada. I think there might have been some confusion, at least among Canadians, my constituents and certainly the opposition, regarding which agencies have what responsibilities in terms of assessing and processing travellers at the border, which other jurisdictions are involved.
This morning I was speaking with the Chief of Police in Peel, Chief Nish, and I note they have also been involved at Pearson Airport.
For the sake of clarity, I'm not sure, maybe the both of you can answer and walk us through specifically how the CBSA and the Public Health Agency of Canada officers, along with other jurisdictions, are working together at the border entry points and how their roles differ.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll try to be very brief in my response to give my colleague the opportunity to answer the second part of that process.
Every person arriving at Canada's border is subject to screening by the CBSA, which makes a determination as to whether the person has a lawful right of entry into the country. By the way, under the Constitution, all returning Canadians have a right of entry. It also includes permanent residents and indigenous persons. They ensure that people can lawfully enter the country. They also enforce, as I've mentioned, over 90 different pieces of legislation.
Since the implementation of the quarantine measures, we've asked more of our border officers. They make a determination of the reason for travel. There's a very clear criterion that has been established by order in council for essential travel. Essential travellers are exempt, and there are a number of other exemptions that have been put in place by order in council. The CBSA officer determines whether the arriving traveller is required to enter into quarantine. If they are, in fact, by the rules that have been put in place by order in council, that individual is then referred to the Public Health Agency of Canada. They also make a determination on the adequacy of the quarantine plan and they order them into quarantine, because they're designated quarantine officers under the Quarantine Act. They've been designated by PHAC.
We also check now, since January 6, to ensure that they have a COVID test, a negative COVID test obtained within three days of their arrival into Canada in the country of origin from which they departed. That is a requirement before they even board the plane. People who are arriving at our land borders are also subject to either referral to PHAC for testing right at the site, at now 20 different sites across Canada, or if they arrive at any one of the other 97 points of entry, they can be given a self-administered test by the CBSA officials.
We then collect that information, pass it on through PHAC to the police of jurisdiction for follow-up and enforcement.
Regarding the hand-off to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there are a number of different routes a passenger might take. If in fact they are symptomatic or they don't have an adequate quarantine plan, they are transferred to a federal quarantine facility where they're supported to isolate, sometimes for the entire duration of their quarantine if their plan is not strong.
What we're trying to protect against in these designated quarantine facilities is the onward transmission of COVID-19, especially for people who are living in very crowded situations, who don't have, for example, a private room in which to isolate within their household or are in a household with very vulnerable people who, in getting COVID-19, might actually die.
With the recent changes, people are asked to stay in a hotel facility, if they're not required to quarantine in a designated quarantine facility, for up to three days while they wait for their negative test. They are supported to do so by the Hotel Association. The Public Health Agency of Canada has a number of supports for travellers.
My thanks to all the witnesses here today and to the minister.
I am very pleased that the committee has agreed to look into this situation, which, it must be said, has been rather chaotic since the beginning.
Before Christmas, there were concerns about people travelling abroad and ignoring health regulations although they were advised to stay home. They were going abroad and could bring the UK variant back to Canada. Quarantine was pretty much unmonitored—one or two automated calls were made to check that people were actually at home. It was very easy to lie.
The government finally listened to reason and decided to impose mandatory hotel quarantine. Although it has been chaotic, I think it is a good measure that is worthwhile to implement. However, there are a number of glitches. It took several weeks from the time the government announced the quarantine to the time they actually implemented it. Our fears were confirmed: the variant we have heard so much about entered the country.
There must have been discussions between the Department of Health and the Department of Public Safety. Perhaps the two ministers can shed some light on this.
Why did it take so long to implement the mandatory hotel quarantine?
Mr. Chair, I can start.
Thanks to the member for, first of all, reminding Canadians that we've been asking Canadians to forgo non-essential travel now for a year. I want to thank Canadians who have complied.
It's been a difficult time for Canadians, many of whom have family overseas and all kinds of different reasons for wanting to travel, but now is not the time for international travel.
The quarantine measures that have been in place for over a year are some of the strongest in the world; in fact, we've had mandatory quarantine in place for a very long time and high compliance rates.
We added an additional layer of protection, as I said, after the variants of concern became better known. First of all, there was the one identified in the U.K. Others were identified in other countries, which has led to vast growth in COVID cases that has led to the virus mutating.
We have always used science and evidence to decide how we should proceed next in our fight with COVID-19, and certainly we heard concerns from the scientific community about, not just the variants of concern that the world had identified, but how the virus might shift and transform in the future.
We're at such a critical stage in our fight with COVID-19, and we are seeing some success with provinces reducing cases. We are seeing success with our vaccination rollout. It became very clear that we could not take any chances when it came to not being able to identify and screen for variants of concern.
I will tell you that 100% of cases that are identified as positive at the border are screened for variants of concern, and we have identified a number of them. This is an important additional layer of protection while we enter into this next phase of vaccination and protection for Canadians.
I understand that. Maybe I should interrupt. It was a simple question, and I think you've given the answer that you do indeed regard them as reasonable.
It was a kind of trick question, in a way, because the provision for quarantine regulations under the Quarantine Act says that you can't undertake certain measures unless there's no reasonable alternative.
I'm comparing the measures for the land border measures with the air travel measures, particularly with respect to the hotel quarantine. There's no reasonable alternative to the hotel quarantine, I would have to assume.
If I ask you that, then I will ask you the following question. How is it, then, that it's possible—and we've heard a number of MPs talk about this in the last number of days—for people to bypass this by landing in the U.S. and then taking a bus across the border and all of that? How is it that it's a reasonable alternative to have a land border without a hotel quarantine, but it's not in the case of air travel?
Jack, I'll try to answer this briefly, and I don't mean to interrupt Minister Hajdu.
I would point out that there are 117 land points of entry at which Canadians can currently cross when they're returning from the United States. In addition to returning non-essential travellers, more than 90% of the people who cross at those land border points of entry are truck drivers. They're essential workers; they are bringing essential supplies to and from Canada. It's a very small cohort—in most border locations, fewer than 5%—of the travellers who are coming to that border who are non-essential in nature.
I would also point out that although some of them these border crossings are located in fairly densely populated urban areas, the vast majority of them are quite remote. They are hundreds of kilometres, and in some cases several hundreds of kilometres, from any possibility of a hotel or even PHAC staff at these things.
We've implemented the measures that we believe are appropriate, necessary and effective, given the size of the cohort of people we're dealing with. More than 90% of the people arriving at the airport are non-essential travellers, while a significantly smaller proportion of people at land borders are non-essential. The measures we've put in place, we believe, are the right measures.
I would also point out that at the airports we've limited all international travel to four international airports. They're located in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver—clearly, large urban centres where hotels and PHAC staff are available to manage the measures that have been put in place there.
I have another follow-up question, and I wasn't here for your presentation, Minister Blair, because I was told by our whip's office that the committee had been rescheduled to five o'clock as a result of the votes. It's unfortunate if I'm repeating something that has already been answered.
We've been told that the designation of people to a particular hotel and all of those rules are actually determined under the Quarantine Act. Reading from the note here, it says with travellers quarantining in a hotel, the facility is required to safely transport travellers from the airport to the hotel and provide travellers with lodging as set by the Public Health Agency, and also to provide the travellers with necessities and a safe and accessible environment.
I'm wondering, does this mean that you've downloaded the responsibility for safe transport from the airport to the hotels to the hotel owners, and also the safety within the hotels to the hotel owners as well? Is that the case, or is it still the responsibility of CBSA, as quarantine officers, to make sure that travellers safely get to the hotels and that while they're in quarantine, under government obligation, they are protected by the officials of the Canadian government, the quarantine officers or whoever else is appointed for their safety?
The allegations of sexual assault are taken very seriously. I would just remind the member that these issues are being thoroughly investigated by the police of jurisdiction. I think it's probably appropriate to await the outcome of those investigations so that we can talk about the facts.
Both of these terrible events are alleged to have occurred in jurisdictions not under federal authority, so they are being investigated. I might also remind the member that these measures—hotel quarantine just as an example—have been introduced in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries around the world. Again, those countries, like Canada, are doing their very best to protect people.
Frankly, this is not a matter of politics. It's a matter of the safety and the health of Canadians. That's our priority, and that's what we're doing.
Let me assure you that it's entirely logical if we consider the environment at land borders. We have all international travel concentrated into four large, urban international airports where there are lots of facility resources and staff to manage the measures that the Public Health Agency of Canada has put in place, but we recognize we have 117 land border points of entry. The vast majority of people crossing those borders are essential workers or people moving essential goods.
Under the circumstances of our land borders in some jurisdictions, such as Lacolle just south of Montreal, the Public Health Agency of Canada is present. Everyone entering at Lacolle, for example—and there are 20 other locations in Canada similar to Lacolle—is required to produce a negative test taken within three days of their arrival. They are also subject to enhanced screening. They are ordered into a 14-day quarantine, and they are tested at point of entry to determine whether or not they are negative even as they come into the country.
Those are very rigorous, important and effective measures. We've seen a very high degree of compliance. In fact, compliance with land border measures we've put in place is at 99.5%, so it's very effective. It would be impractical and perhaps even impossible to require people to transit to a hotel from the vast majority of our points of entry where the nearest hotel might be hundreds and hundreds of kilometres away, so we have other measures we've implemented in those places in recognition of the unique environment.
I would simply remind this committee that those measures are working, and we are doing the work necessary to keep Canadians safe.
I would love to. Thank you so much. Good evening, everybody. My name is Isaac Bogoch. I'm an infectious diseases physician and I'm a scientist based out of the Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto. Thank you very much for inviting me to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Obviously the main issue here is to discuss the quarantine hotels, but clearly this is a symptom of a much larger issue, and that's how to protect Canadians from the external introduction of COVID-19 with sound border and travel measures.
Now, this is a rapidly changing environment. We need border policy that will adapt to growing immunity that we get from vaccine scale-up in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.
The key here is that the policy today will hopefully look very different from the policy we'll have in the months ahead as we gain population-level immunity and as we have a better understanding of what the true protective effect is of these vaccines for, as an example, the emerging variants of concern that we've heard so much about.
The immediate issue, however, is obviously to discuss these quarantine hotels. It's clear that they are not without harm. We've heard about the disturbing reports of sexual assault. We've heard about logistical issues, costs and loopholes.
It's important to remember that the key goal here is to prevent the importation of COVID-19 and variants of concern that are more transmissible or have the potential to escape immunity. Essentially, it's to buy us time in Canada to vaccinate ourselves.
It's interesting that the Public Health Agency of Canada has instructed all Canadians to avoid all unnecessary international travel since March of 2020. It's been a year.
These most recent prohibitive measures really accomplished two related tasks. They basically dissuaded travel by adding cost and inconvenience, but they also created mechanisms to decrease the likelihood that imported cases of COVID-19 and the variants of concern would spread within Canada.
How helpful is this? How helpful are the quarantine hotels? Emerging data will answer this and address whether we truly are getting incremental benefit from them, and if so, how much.
Of course, this isn't a long-term strategy, so what are the better alternatives? There are ample ways to prevent infection from getting into Canada or a country in general and to ensure that people adhere to quarantine measures. In isolation, none of these is perfect, but bundled together they provide incremental safety.
The big categories are these.
Number one is travel bans. You either prevent people from leaving your country or from coming into your country. That is not an ideal long-term solution.
Number two is testing. We've seen here pre-travel testing and testing on arrival. Those are very effective and helpful.
Number three is home quarantine. You can add to this periodic check-ins by phone or in person, and of course, you can add technology to really ensure that people are staying at home and to track movement.
I'm not saying we should do this; I'm saying this is on the buffet table of options that are available to us.
Then, number four is hotel quarantine. We already know what the problems are with this. It's expensive, it's a tough environment to control, it's logistically challenging—but it's still an option.
There are a few other semi-related items that we should be considering. The measures have to be commensurate with the current and future threats.
The problem is that we don't fully appreciate the full impacts that the variants of concern have. To what extent do they evade immunity? How protective are our current vaccines approved in Canada against them?
We have emerging data suggesting that some of the vaccines, such as the Pfizer vaccine, may provide decent protection against all the major variants of concern. There still are many unanswered questions, however, and we will have more clarity in the weeks and months ahead.
We also should consider that fully vaccinated people pose far less of a threat. The vaccines aren't perfect, but they are really good. It's worthwhile to start the conversations about considering allowing fully vaccinated people to travel without warranty—perhaps if they have negative testing.
There is already behavioural guidance now for vaccinated people in the United States. For example, the CDC says that those who are fully vaccinated don't need to quarantine, if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are asymptomatic. Other countries, such as Cyprus, recently announced that they are allowing fully vaccinated tourists in the near future.
With requiring proof of vaccination at the border there are obviously ethical challenges, but this is likely going to happen in many countries around the world, and even these obvious ethical and equity issues can be imperfectly ameliorated by providing vaccination free of charge at the border. We can also do such things as shorten quarantine periods to seven to 10 days and test at the tail end.
Lastly, I think it's important to recognize that close to 75% of travel across the land border is currently exempt from quarantine regulations, so it's a good idea to prioritize those essential travellers for vaccination.
In sum, it's important to adhere to the precautionary principle in the context of an unknown and potentially devastating threat from the variants of concern: either that they are more transmissible or that they escape immunity, or sometimes that they might even be more deadly.
We'll have a rapidly growing understanding of what threat these variants pose in the coming weeks and of how our vaccine program will fare. Let's look at the available data, which is growing; let's look at the available data from the quarantine hotels. Then we can make value judgements and see whether it's worth continuing this plan in the short term while we simultaneously look for an exit strategy that can heavily rely on testing and perhaps home quarantine, with additional tools and support for better follow-up.
We also have to plan for all of this to change with time as the Canadian and global population level immunity grows.
Thank you for your time.
It's a pleasure for us to be here. We had been advised that based on the minister's statement at the opening, we wouldn't need to give an opening monologue, if you will, in terms of our participation today. But Mr. Christiansen and I are very pleased to be here to address any more questions that come our way as they pertain to the border.
I might add that it's been nearly a year. A year ago we established our CBSA border COVID task force, led by Mr. Christiansen, to begin to implement a series of measures that brings us to this day. It's been a series of sequences and steps that have brought a series of new controls at the border, each informed by direction from our colleagues at Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Therefore, we've worked diligently to ensure that our officers had the right direction, the right information and the right support to be able to make those day-to-day decisions that are required of them.
I'll leave it at that. We'll be very pleased to support the committee in its work today.
Also, thank you to the honourable members.
I'd like to start by echoing the earlier sentiments that were expressed, that the travellers who are in quarantine should feel safe and secure at all times.
Today, I am here to speak to you about the border measures that are in place to protect Canadians from COVID-19, and its variants.
Although the Government of Canada recommends against Canadians travelling at this time, anyone who does travel should be aware of the requirements currently in place.
With limited exceptions, persons entering Canada must quarantine for 14 days, starting the day they arrive.
Travellers coming to Canada must submit their travel and contact information and a suitable quarantine plan via the ArriveCAN app before they board their flight or before they cross the Canadian border.
Before boarding a flight to Canada, a traveller must also provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test taken up to 72 hours prior to their flight departing. Alternatively, the traveller can provide proof of a positive test taken 14 to 90 days prior to arrival in Canada.
For travellers who are arriving by land and who are providing proof of a negative test result, the molecular test has to have been taken in the United States.
Travellers arriving in Canada by land or air, with limited exceptions, must also take a COVID-19 molecular test on arrival. In addition, they will be required to take another test towards the end of their 14-day quarantine period.
Also, again with limited exceptions, travellers who arrive by air must pre-book and stay up to three nights in Government of Canada-authorized accommodations while they wait for the results on their arrival test.
The cost of the hotel accommodations is at the travellers' expense and includes associated costs for food, security, transportation, and infection prevention and control measures.
If the traveller receives a negative test result, they can continue to their place of quarantine to finish their quarantine period. If the traveller's result is positive, they will be transferred to a designated quarantine facility, or another suitable location, to complete their 14 days.
Government of Canada employees and also security personnel are stationed at the designated quarantine facilities to ensure that all entry and exit points are secure, controlled and monitored.
Travellers required to stay in one of these facilities are provided with information that outlines the details of the quarantine requirement, which includes a code of conduct and potential fines for non-compliant behaviour.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has recently enhanced its security presence at these quarantine facilities and will continue to make adjustments as needed to ensure the safety of anyone staying in these facilities.
We are increasing the training of staff who are working at the facilities, and have developed enhanced policies and procedures.
The Public Health Agency of Canada works with the RCMP and provincial and municipal law enforcement to verify compliance with quarantine, isolation and other obligations.
Also, officials provide travellers with information outlining what is required of them during the isolation or quarantine period. Officials then contact travellers throughout this period to remind them of the requirements.
We have also initiated compliance verification visits by third party security companies, which are now under way. If a traveller cannot be reached, or if it seems they are not complying, they are referred to local law enforcement. And there are penalties, Mr. Chair, ranging from up to six months in prison or up to $750,000.
As we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to evaluate the border measures we have in place to ensure they are effective and minimizing the introduction of new COVID-19 cases.
I would like to end by emphasizing that now is not the time to travel. The Government of Canada continues to advise against non-essential travel to and from Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I can certainly answer.
Mr. Chair, I would like to briefly clarify the data and I will let Ms. Diogo explain the difference between the two models.
Only 7% of people who enter Canada by land are directed to quarantine. Since the coming into force of the new controls, which now require testing and quarantine, the number of people entering the country by land each day who are directed to quarantine has decreased from approximately 1,200 to 1,500 people to only 650 to 800 people. The number is higher for those entering the country by air. Actually, almost 91% of them are directed to quarantine.
The number of people crossing the border by land is increasing. They are mostly truckers transporting goods, which has had no impact on the number of people entering the country by land. In summary, about half of the people crossing the border by land are being directed to quarantine, unlike the number coming into the country by air.
Thank you for your question.
Mr. Chair, right from the start of the pandemic, and even before that, we directed our attention to supporting our front-line officers. That began in January 2020, when we started to look at what was happening in China at that time, which then became the great pandemic.
We worked with Health Canada to make sure we had all the necessary occupational health and safety guidelines, protocols and equipment because, as officers who enforce the Quarantine Act, we are examining people and their health at all times. We remember Ebola and H1N1. It was a matter of reviewing what we had, being informed by up-to-date scientific data, and putting in place things like sanitation and masks, and then putting up Plexiglass panels, social distancing, and so on.
So that's always a very important aspect, and we made sure that we worked with our union and the agency's health and safety committee, so we were able to work well together and ensure the health of our officers.
Ms. Diogo, I would like to follow up on what you said earlier. You said that when travellers arrive at an airport and refuse to undergo the mandatory hotel quarantine, they are subject to a $3,000 fine under the Quarantine Act.
However, in a February 25 article in the Huffington Post, the Public Health Agency was quoted as saying that, if people did not follow instructions, they could be fined up to $750. The fine given at the time by Peel Regional Police was $880.
Could you confirm whether it was $3,000 or $750?
Why was it $880 in this case?
In comparing ourselves to other countries, in particular the United States, our next-door neighbours, our COVID control, if I could call it that, experience is much better, largely on account of the at-home quarantining.
Like many Canadians, I'm left wondering what is added with the new mandatory hotel quarantine rules. It's a new requirement that does not have the broad acceptance, obviously, that the at-home quarantining has had.
We've all heard many stories of people trying to skirt the rules, or thinking that the rules are unfair, or coming to their hotel only to find that their hotel room isn't ready and having to be left in a waiting room with many other travellers. One of my constituents called me and said they would have felt much safer at home, that would have been a much more successful and safe quarantine.
What are your opinions on that?
I understand that. Thank you.
I'm going to go over to Dr. Bogoch.
It's nice to have you here. It's nice to see you face to face—sort of. Thank you for your very clear testimony earlier on.
You said there are a number of ways that a country like Canada could implement safety rules. You suggested a travel ban, which, of course, is impractical. You also suggested testing, which we do, and we would all agree that that's one of the tools. At-home quarantining has been very successful, but now hotel quarantining has been brought into the loop.
In earlier testimony, it was unclear to me whether there is clear evidence and data available that says that hotel quarantining is better than at-home quarantining. I know that you talked about the precautionary principle, but am I right that there's no clear evidence available from anywhere in the world that says that hotel quarantining is that much better than at-home quarantining?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I thank the witnesses for being here tonight.
From the outset, it is clear that the incidents that have been reported in Montreal and Oakville are absolutely disturbing. It is imperative that we get to the bottom of them. I would like to come back later to the investigation conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada, if time permits.
As for the very principle of mandatory quarantine in hotels, I am surprised to hear the Conservatives advocate less stringent measures at the border tonight and practically oppose mandatory quarantine in government-designated hotels, even though we are seeing the emergence of highly contagious variants throughout the world, for which we have little information, and elementary school children in Quebec have been required to wear masks since this week. I find it astounding to hear them suggest tonight that this policy was guided by obscure political motives. We see that countries like Australia, India, New Zealand, Israel, Qatar, South Korea, the Philippines and the United Kingdom have imposed, in one way or another, mandatory quarantine in government-designated hotels. I don't see this as a political move, either here or elsewhere, but rather as an application of the precautionary principle. In my opinion, you can't blame a fireman for putting out a fire with too much water.
Dr. Bogoch, I would like to hear your opinion on this. In your expertise, how does this kind of measure fit into the constellation of measures that need to be implemented to combat COVID-19, in an era when variants are appearing all over the planet?
Chair, I'm actually quite surprised that the Liberal members of this committee are avoiding the issue of why we're here, which is the incidents that occurred, how they occurred and how we can prevent them from happening again.
This is for Dr. Kochhar. In the first hour, we all heard the Minister of Public Safety basically acquiesce his responsibility on the issues. Public Safety placed all of the blame for public safety and security at the feet of PHAC. They basically threw PHAC under the bus.
PHAC then, when questioned, said that when it comes to security, the hotel association is responsible for security.
The Minister of Public Safety says it's all PHAC's responsibility. Then PHAC says it's not theirs really; it actually belongs to the hotel association. Then in questioning from Mr. Harris, ADM Kochhar acknowledged that they actually have government-contracted security people at hotels. This means that the government is, in essence, responsible for the safety and security of people in the required quarantine.
Is that your assessment? Can you confirm that, Dr. Kochhar?
In the case of the assault that took place at the Sheraton in Montreal, the victim said that it took 15 to 20 minutes before hotel security came to her assistance.
Interestingly, in Taiwan, a man was fined 3,000 euros for leaving his room for eight seconds. So people are very much under surveillance.
Under the Quarantine Act, the minister may appoint screening officers or quarantine officers.
Are there agents on site in the hotels? If so, how many are there?
If not, have clear guidelines been given to the selected hotels to ensure the safety of travellers during their quarantine?
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll be sharing my time with my colleague, Ms. Damoff, as well, but I'll start.
First and foremost, I want, on behalf of all my constituents, to thank all the officials and Dr. Bogoch for being here.
Thank you for the incredible work that you all have been doing for the last year or so in the midst of this pandemic.
I do want to talk a bit about some of the concerns and complaints that I've heard directly from some of my constituents. I represent the riding of Brampton West, and certainly there have been people who have travelled and have raised concerns with regard to delays in bookings, difficulties in getting meals or water in a timely manner, and the public health measures' not being followed or enforced. I know that a lot of them are legitimate, but I also know that there is a lot of misinformation out there.
I know that this is a new territory for everyone. We're working together with so many different agencies and jurisdictions, with actors such as the Hotel Association of Canada and even third party contractors.
My question is for PHAC. Can you talk a bit about how these concerns are being addressed so that Canadians can have confidence that their concerns are being taken seriously?
Mr. Chair, I can start, and I will invite colleagues to pitch in.
In reality what we have been seeing over time is that as COVID-19 progressed, we also came across one of the bigger threats, which was the COVID-19 variants. Those variants were really of concern because of increased transmissibility.
Also at that time, we were still gathering information about what would happen in our testing, our ability to have medical countermeasures.
The gradual approach was first of all, Mr. Chair, the flights from the U.K. were stopped. This was the first time we heard of a U.K. variant. Over time when we started to look around, there were experiences of other countries like Australia and New Zealand. We were informed of the results from the pilot projects we had been doing at various airports, for example, Alberta, where there were some data that people were coming in with infection.
That was a prompt for us to look at what more we could do to stop the importation of COVID-19 and specifically stop the importation of the COVID variants.
That's the frame we were working off.