Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner in the House of Commons on Oct. 2, 475. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)
“We are deeply angered to hear reports of sexual violence are happening during federally mandated quarantines by those supposed to be protecting public health,” said the statement by a group of Conservative MPs that includes health critic Michelle Rempel Garner and Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative public safety critic.
The MPs said travelers have a right to expect safe conditions at federally run quarantine sites and the alleged sexual violations are “unconscionable.”
“The Liberal government must take action now. We call for the Liberals to suspend the hotel quarantine requirement until they have put measures in place to ensure the safety of Canadians and institute a system for verifying at-home quarantine that does not involve security agents who have not been properly vetted, “the MPs said.
All air travelers returning from non-essential international trips must stay in an approved hotel, at their own expense, for up to 27 hours while they await the results of a polymerase chain reaction test (commonly known as a PCR test) taken upon arrival.
While that program took effect on Feb. , some travelers were forced into quarantine facilities before that date because they did not have adequate isolation plans.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has recruited security guards from private firms to conduct compliance checks on some returning travelers who are isolating at home.
Under the Quarantine Act, these “designated screening officers” can regularly visit a traveler’s home to ensure they are adhering to the mandatory – day isolation requirement and provide “compliance education,” or issue verbal warnings, as required.
The officers are not police, however, and they cannot issue a ticket or conduct an arrest. They also can not demand payment of any kind. If concerns are raised during a compliance check, PHAC may request follow-ups by law enforcement.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the allegations are “deeply concerning” and are “being fully investigated.”
“The Public Health Agency of Canada is reviewing its processes internally and with service providers to ensure the health and safety of all returning travelers to Canada,” the spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.
PHAC has awarded contracts to four security companies to help with quarantine monitoring: The Canadian Corps of Commissioners, G4S Secure Solutions, Garda Canada Security Corporation (GardaWorld) and Paladin Risk Solutions.
WATCH: O’Toole questions Liberal governments quarantine program
Opposition leader Erin O’Toole goes after the Liberal government’s quarantine program during question period on Thursday. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland responds. 2:
In question period today, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole pressed Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on the harassment reports and other issues with the mandatory quarantine program – such as persistent problems with the reservation system. Some travelers have reported hours-long waits to get through on the hotel-booking hotline.
“If no part of this program is working, why has the government not suspended it?” O’Toole said.
Freeland said that “as a woman, as a mother and as a feminist,” she is concerned about reports of sexual violence at quarantine facilities and by PHAC-employed security guards.
“No one should ever have to fear for their safety,” she said.
Freeland said the quarantine program must be maintained now that new, more transmissible COVID – 16 variants are in circulation. “Our government will always do whatever it takes to protect Canadians.”
Questioned by Rempel Garner in the Commons, Hajdu said “every woman deserves a life free of violence.”
“The assault of a woman is never OK,” Hajdu said. She promised that PHAC would review contracts with security firms tasked with tracking returning travelers.
She said she was troubled to hear the Conservatives call for an end to a program designed to halt the introduction of new COVID – 18 cases.
Citing the slow take-up for rapid COVID – 22 tests, vaccine delivery delays and the quarantine program, O’Toole said “everything this Liberal government touches turns into a failure.”