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Returning to Canada, Quarantine and Privacy Concerns in the time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed severe restrictions on the rights of Canadians. While much progress has been made to quell the pandemic, there are still many limitations placed on Canadian citizens and those looking to enter Canada. As of May 21st, 2021, partially vaccinated and unvaccinated Canadian citizens must provide travel, contact, and quarantine information through the government app ArriveCAN, within 72 hours of their arrival. On June 21st, the federal government announced that, starting July 5th, fully vaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents will not need to quarantine upon return to Canada. While the app may facilitate authorities in combatting the pandemic, certain research firms, such as the United Kingdom’s Top10VPN, have identified privacy issues.

If you enter Canada, even if you are a Canadian citizen, and have no symptoms, you still must quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. You are not excluded from quarantining even if you have been vaccinated for COVID-19, have tested negative for COVID-19 or have recovered from COVID-19. Quarantining is mandatory for everyone entering Canada. While in quarantine you cannot leave your place of quarantine unless it is for a medical emergency or treatment, is pre-authorized or is for a COVID-19 test. Failure to comply with these requirements is an offence under the Quarantine Act, which can lead to severe penalties.

ArriveCAN and Privacy Issues

If you are coming to Canada, regardless of whether you are a citizen, you must use the app ArriveCAN to detail to your 14-day quarantine plan. This plan requires you to detail where you can stay for 14 days with adequate water, food, heat and other necessities without needing to go out in public. While this may seem necessary to some during a serious pandemic, there are some privacy concerns.

Recent reports state that the Canadian government’s app ArriveCAN may have had access to users’ locations. A noted United Kingdom research firm, Top10VPN, says that the ArriveCAN privacy policy contains a provision, which is a type of provision that allows the app to monitor your GPS location. The federal government denies that the app has tracking technology with their website explicitly stating, “[t]he ArriveCAN App cannot be used to track people’s location automatically through their phone or via GPS, nor is it a surveillance tool.” Thus, the Canadian government states they are taking privacy rights seriously during the pandemic.

Still, these findings should cause concern for individuals under quarantine but who decide to leave their premises for unauthorized purposes. While there is no hard conclusion that the government is tracking your phone via ArriveCAN, the statement from Top10VPN leaves open the possibility that the app is tracking movements. Subsequently, Canadian citizens and individuals coming to Canada should be careful about leaving quarantine. During the mandatory quarantine, individuals can expect calls, emails, and visits from law enforcement to ensure they are complying with the rules. Failure to comply can lead to severe penalties.

Penalties for Contravening the Quarantine Act

Any individuals who fail to comply with the provisions of the Quarantine Act faces various fines, penalties and even imprisonment.

For example, it could constitute an offence under the Quarantine Act if you violate any instructions given to you by officials when you enter Canada or if you provide incorrect information about your COVID-19 status. Penalties for violating instructions include up to 6 months in prison and/or up to $750,000 in fines. Similarly, if you contravene mandatory quarantine requirements and you cause death or serious bodily harm to another person, the penalty could include: a fine of up to $1,000,000 or up to three years in prison or both.

Similarly, individuals can be ticketed $5,000 for leaving quarantine prior to the 14th day, presenting fake COVID-19 test results, or even arriving at the land border or airport without a valid COVID-19 test. Needless to say, penalties for contravention can be quite severe.

Contact us if you need help

Privacy issues are important to a free and democratic society. While there are some valid concerns around privacy issues surrounding ArriveCAN, the government claims it is not tracking movements. Still, if you are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, you are required to be in quarantine, you should follow the necessary protocols, as law enforcement may check up on you at home frequently. If you are not at home, you could suffer severe penalties.


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