Canada’s ‘broken’ quarantine hotel reservation system means family could face hefty fine
In Burlington, Ont. The father says he has been calling the Federal Government hotline since Friday to book a quarantine hotel for his daughter, who is returning from Australia. But it just can’t pass.
Dave Buttrum says he was put on hold five times over the weekend and was disconnected each time after the three hours. Since Tuesday, he has had no luck. Now he fears his daughter could face a hefty fine for breaking the government’s quarantine law.
The government’s hotel quarantine plan for air travellers, he said, is “absolute nonsense”.
“I can’t understand how you’re supposed to comply with a system if it’s broken,” he said in an interview with Ontario Today on Monday.
Other travelers across the country are also dealing with those bogged down phone lines and worrying that they won’t be able to book a room before boarding their flight.
As of Monday, most people traveling to Canada by air must pre-book a hotel stay to begin their quarantine. Reservations must be at hotels on a government-approved list and stays can be up to three days.
Travelers must also make their reservation through a government phone line. There is no online option.
Buttrum’s daughter has been in Australia on a travel visa since January 2020. She is returning at the end of this week as her health insurance has run out.
While the Public Health Agency of Canada has said people should only call the reservations number if their flight is scheduled within the next 48 hours, Buttrum says he is reluctant to wait given the delays he currently undergoing.
“Am I taking the risk that he will be denied boarding?” he said, noting that there was also the risk that his daughter could also be fined.
“It’s an exercise in utter frustration. They’ve put this system in place. They haven’t put the right resources or thought into it, and it’s absolutely not working.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC News that the maximum penalties for violating the quarantine law include a fine of up to $750,000 and/or six months in jail.
Discretion on fines
In a COVID-19 update on Tuesday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said it would be up to Canada Border Services Agency officers whether or not to charge those who attempts, but could not reach anyone to book a hotel room.
LeBlanc said he expects discretion to be used wisely, but also expects Canadians to take the necessary steps before they arrive.
Buttrum said there was no problem wanting to comply or sticking to the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
He said he understood the federal government’s intent, but didn’t necessarily agree with the hotel quarantine, especially in light of implementation issues.
“Hopefully she can get through,” Buttrum said.
He also added that the government should not “penalize Canadians” for trying to return home.
He said his daughter had booked several return flights over the past few months, which failed three times as parts of her itinerary back to Canada were canceled by airlines. Earlier in the pandemic, flights cost thousands of dollars, he said, even approaching $9,000 at one point.
Since his daughter was in a safe area, he said, it was a better decision to stay there.
CBC News reached out to local Buttrum MLA Pam Damoff (Oakville-North Burlington) for advice for other Burlington residents, but was told to speak with the Public Health Agency of Canada.
An email from a spokesperson for his office in Buttrum says the center received more than 27,000 calls a day over the weekend. He added additional operators to answer questions, as well as agents to book hotels.
“These wait times are expected to decrease over the next week, but demand remains high,” the spokesperson wrote.
“At this point, you and your daughter should keep calling until you can drop by. To lighten the load, they’re asking everyone to wait 48 hours before their flights, but I understand the stress of doing that. book as soon as possible.”
The hotel is responsible for transporting travelers from the airport and providing them with three nights’ accommodation in accordance with Public Health Agency of Canada requirements, as well as necessities including meals, telephone and Wi-Fi .
It must also report information on the person’s check-in, check-out and compliance with the Quarantine Act.
Here are the telephone lines of the hotel room reservation system. They are open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, seven days a week: 1-800-294-8253 (toll-free in North America) or 1-613-830-2992 (call collect outside of North America)