With the continued spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is important to keep up to date with the Canadian government’s best practices and the evolving legislative landscape.

On March 21, 2020, Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced that one week of social distancing will not suffice but rather, she anticipated that these measures will likely last for months. Minister Hajdu has stated that now is the time to double down on social distancing measures because failing to do so jeopardizes civil liberties and puts lives at risk. Minister Hajdu’s announcement was that right now, social responsibility for those who have not been exposed is the key for stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Domestic Travel Restrictions

On March 28, 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that domestic travel by plane or train will soon be prohibited for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus. The domestic restrictions will take effect on March 30. During Trudeau’s announcement, he placed responsibility on operators of airlines and trains to ensure that travellers exhibiting symptoms do not board. There will likely be more information available about these domestic travel restrictions.

International Travel Restrictions

On March 16, the Government of Canada announced it has taken the following actions at Canadian borders:

  1. Banning foreign nationals from all countries except the United States from entering Canada. This ban does not apply to air crews, travellers arriving in Canada to transit to a third country, Canadian permanent residents, diplomats or immediate family members of Canadian citizens;
  1. Redirecting international passenger flights to arrive at four Canadian airports, those being:
  2. Calgary International;
  3. Vancouver International;
  4. Toronto-Pearson International Airport; and
  5. Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International.

Canada is also implementing additional health and safety provisions at Canadian airports, which includes the following:

  1. Improving health screening;
  2. Increasing airport security and staff to conduct further health screening and public outreach;
  3. Increasing signage through the arrival areas so that travellers will follow the latest public health best practices;
  4. Preventing all travellers who have COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of citizenship, from boarding international flights to Canada; and
  5. Airlines will conduct a basic health assessment of all travellers based on guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

On March 18, the Government of Canada announced it was closing its borders to all non-essential travel.

While these are clear restrictions, Canada has yet to implement a full halt on travel. It remains to be seen whether the Canadian government, in the coming months, will implement additional restrictions to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Canada. More draconian restrictions will no doubt have further implications for the Canadian economy and business. The Canadian government is faced with conflicting considerations. Additional travel restrictions promote health and safety, while at the same time, risk negatively impacting the Canadian economy and its businesses.


Presently, all travellers arriving in Canada are asked to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry with exceptions put in place for workers who are necessary for the movement of goods and people. These travellers are being encouraged to avoid contact with others for 14 days, while monitoring themselves closely for symptoms.

The British Columbia government currently advises that if you have no symptoms, mild symptoms, were exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or are a returning traveller and in self-isolation for the 14 day period, you do not require a test for corona virus. Only a healthcare professional can determine whether you require a test. This involves contacting your health care provider or in British Columbia calling 811 to assess if testing is required. If symptoms are severe, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, individuals are encouraged to call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Department.

As of March 16, 2020, all travellers entering Canada are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry with exceptions for workers who are essential to the movement of goods and people. Individuals should avoid contact with other people for 14 days, while monitoring themselves closely for symptoms.

Returning to the undertone of the statement by Health Minister Hajdu, the self-isolation requirements entrust Canadian citizens to be socially responsible and conscientious of the health and safety of not just themselves and their families, but also of the rest of the population. Since the self-isolation requirements are self-regulating, it is up to Canadian citizens to be responsible and monitor their conditions and contact with other people, taking the necessary precautions when there is risk of exposure or spread of the virus.

Potential Criminal Consequences for Failure to Self-Isolate

Health Minister Hajdu advised Canadians that she is now considering criminal penalties for Canadian travelers who do not self-isolate for 14 days when they return home. Hajdu provided that Canada could implement monetary penalties up to and including criminal penalties.

The Quarantine Act (the “Act), updated in 2005 after the SARS outbreak, gives the federal health minister the power to create quarantine zones and fine or jail travelers who disobey quarantine measures. It remains to be seen whether the Canadian government will use the Act to implement these measures.

No “Flagpoling”

Of particular interest from an immigration perspective, the Canadian government has discouraged “flag poling”. Flag poling is a term given to individuals who are currently in Canada and travel to the United States border as a means to get their immigration status issued or extended. This is a common means utilized by individuals who wish to renew their study or work permits or to process their permanent residence status.

The Canadian Border Services Agency has released a statement classifying travel to the United States border for immigration services as fitting within the non-essential travel category. These individuals are requested to refrain from travelling to the border until further notice.

Temporary residents seeking to extend their stay in Canada as students, workers, or visitors can do so remotely on the website of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada : www.cic.gc.ca.

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