While other places in the world have started to relax travel restrictions and self-isolation requirements, Canada continues to enforce strict policy requirements under the Quarantine Act (the “Act”). This article provides an analysis of the current domestic and international travel restrictions from an immigration perspective.

While these requirements continue to be in place, both British Columbia and Ontario have introduced careful restart plans to move from essential service operation to a gradual return to work.

British Columbia’s Restart Plan

In British Columbia, we presently remain in “Phase 1.” Phase 1 allows for essential services to operate, while abiding by strict social distancing and self-isolation measures. By mid-May, other commercial business will start to open up, such as retail, personal services, museums, office-based worksites, and even restaurants. Elective surgeries will also become available again as will medical services such as dentistry and physiotherapy. By Phase 3, if transmission rates remain low or in decline, by June to September, under enhanced protocols, hotels and resort will open again, as will parks, the film industry, select-entertainment, and education. By Phase 4, conditional on the availability of vaccination, community immunity, or broad successful treatments, large gathering and international tourism may again be permitted.

While this plan sets out a roadmap for British Columbia’s restart, it is clear that to move forward from Phase 1, transmission rates need to continue to decline or stabilize. British Columbia’s transmission rates are presently on the decline. However, if rates increase as the economy and workplace start to open up again, British Columbia may restrict or vary this gradual restart plan to prevent another wave of transmission.

Ontario’s Restart Plan

Ontario’s restart plan has three phases. The restart plan does not include anticipated dates for transitioning between phases and it tends to be less specific than the British Columbia model. The looser framework is likely due to the fact that transmission rates have not declined in the same way as in British Columbia, and therefore the need for flexibility based on transmission rates in the coming weeks is paramount.

Phase 1 focuses on protecting and supporting the health and well-being of individuals and families. Similar to the British Columbia model, Phase 1 starts with the ongoing closure of all non-essential workplaces and strict social distancing and self-isolation measures. However, during Phase 1, select workplaces that can swiftly modify operations to meet current public health standards will be permitted to open. Phase 1 also includes opening some outdoor spaces like parks and allowing hospitals to offer non-urgent and scheduled services. By Phase 2, more workplaces will be permitted to open based on the government’s risk assessments, which could include some service industries and additional office and retail workplaces. Some larger public gatherings may be permitted and more outdoor spaces would open. By Phase 3, all workplaces will be opened and public gatherings would be permitted.

Domestic Travel Restrictions

Despite the restart plans, domestic travel restrictions remain in place. Effective March 30, 2020, domestic travel by plane or train is prohibited for anyone showing coronavirus symptoms.

All air operators are required to do the following:

  1. Conduct a health check of travellers prior to boarding a flight within Canada;
  2. Refuse boarding passengers who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms; and
  3. Notify travellers that they could be subject to provincial or territorial measures specific to the final destination.

Any passengers seeking to fly outbound who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms will be instructed to leave the airport using private transportation and self-isolate for 14 days.

Similarly, all intercity rail operators (excluding commuter trains) are required to do the following:

  1. Conduct a health check to screen passengers for COVID-19 symptoms before they board the train; and
  2. Refuse boarding passengers who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.

The government has temporarily lifted the ban on invalid ID and is permitting Canadians to fly domestically with expired ID in limited cases. The government has made this decision because it anticipates that Canadians will end up with invalid identification due to being unable to renew their identification before it expires. As such, the government is allowing air carriers to accept identification from passengers on domestic flights, where the identification has expired after March 1, 2020.

International Travel Restrictions

Significant international travel restrictions also remain in place. Presently, Canada has prohibited entry from outside of Canada to all individuals other than:

  1. Canadian citizens;
  2. Canadian permanent residents;
  3. Persons registered under Canada’s Indian Act[1];
  4. Protected persons; or
  5. Foreign nationals coming to Canada for an essential (non-discretionary purpose) from the United States or elsewhere.

Some notable exceptions include people who:

  1. make necessary medical deliveries required for patient care such as cells, organs, tissues, blood and blood productions;
  2. work in the trade and transportation sector to support the movement of goods and people, such as truck drivers and crew on any plane, train, or marine vessel; and
  3. temporary foreign workers and some international students who are approved permanent residents who have not yet entered Canada and are able to arrive.

The government has recognized that travel restrictions for those who are outside the United States will have a huge impact on those who cannot travel to Canada right now. For this reason, Canada is now allowing temporary foreign workers and international students who have a work permit or who are approved for one to enter Canada despite it being for a non-essential purpose. These individuals, however, must be assessed prior to entry and have a plan to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Canada. They will also need a plan for how to obtain medical care if they become sick.

The International Mobility Program (“IMP”)

While the above foreign workers and international students may be approved to enter Canada, the IMP has introduced new regulations for employers of temporary workers to ensure compliance with Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial efforts to protect public health. To achieve this object, the IMP has made amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. Most notable of these amendments include:

  1. A worker who does not follow a required 14 day quarantine period can become inadmissible to Canada;
  2. Employers who do not ensure their workers follow the required 14 day quarantine period can receive monetary penalties and/or bans on hiring foreign workers in the future; and
  3. Officers at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will undergo inspections to ensure compliance with these new requirements. Officers can contact employers or individual workers via electronic communication or telephone to commence an inspection.

The Canada-United States Border Ban

On March 21, 2020, Canada implemented a 30-day restriction on all non-essential (discretionary) travel at the Canada-United States border, which has now been extended for an additional 30 days until June 21, 2020. This decision marked a clear divergence between Canada and the United States with respect to the quarantine and self-isolation policies in place. The United States has markedly been reopening public spaces and businesses in favor of stimulating the economic market. Canada’s decision to close its borders to the United States suggests that Canada disagrees with this decision and views it as risking additional outbreak and health risks.

Fines and Criminal Consequences for Failure to Self-Isolate

Currently and since the SARS outbreak in 2005, the federal health minister has the power to create quarantine zones and fine or jail travelers who disobey quarantine measures. Any violation of the quarantine policies set out in the Act could lead up to 6 months in prison and/or up to $750,000 in fines.

Further, any person who causes a risk of imminent death or seriously bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly violating the Act could be liable for:

  1. A fine of up to $1,000,000,
  2. Imprisonment of up to 3 years, or

As anticipated, the Canadian government has used the Act as a mechanism to implement criminal and monetary consequences for those individuals who fail to comply with quarantine and self-isolation policies.

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.

[1] Indian Act, RSC 1985, c I-5


Co-authored by Glen Stratton.

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