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ONTARIO: Sudbury man at the centre of a dispute over cross-border quarantine rules

Michael Bedard from Val Caron says his Quarantine Act fine is wrong, and legislation seems to back him up

A Sudbury man who works on contract in the United States as a hydro lineman said he has every intention to fight the $3,000 Provincial Offences Act ticket he was given last week for violating the Quarantine Act.

Michael Bedard of Val Caron was given the ticket by Greater Sudbury Police Service (GSPS) for allegedly breaching the Canada Quarantine Act, after checking himself out of the Toronto hotel where he had been placed for mandatory isolation after arriving home in Canada from his job in California.

Bedard believes he was targetted unfairly by the Public Health Agency of Canada and fined unjustly. He told Sudbury.com that, as far as he understands the legislation, his job as a lineman is considered an essential service, which should have exempted him from being quarantined. What’s more, Bedard, who is battling cancer, was returning to Canada for a necessary medical appointment, which the legislation also states exempts him from the quarantine requirement.

Troubles begin

His troubles began shortly after landing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on a flight from California on Feb.17. Bedard had a negative COVID-19 test in hand that had been taken in California on Feb. 13; he wouldn’t have been allowed to fly without it.

There was some urgency to the visit as Bedard was due for a medically necessary appointment at the Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre the morning after his arrival, on Feb. 18. He even had a letter in hand from his radiation-oncologist stating the appointment was medically necessary. The appointment did not happen.

At Pearson, Bedard’s COVID test was ruled invalid by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) officer at the airport. He also said his status as an essential worker was ignored by the same officer. To make matters worse, Bedard said his claim about his medical appointment was not believed.

This went against everything Bedard expected as he had read through the requirements from Health Canada, in particular those regarding medical appointments, which clearly state, “entering Canada for essential medical services or treatments is generally quarantine exempt, if your treatment is within 36 hours of entering.”

Bedard was bundled into a shuttle with his luggage and transported to the Radisson Hotel on Dixon Road in Toronto by quarantine officers where he was checked in for a three-day stay at the ‘quarantine hotel’. 

Meanwhile, his wife, Terri, was at Pearson waiting to pick up her husband. She was told by a quarantine officer to drive back to Sudbury as her husband was headed for quarantine.

Bedard protested. He explained that he needed to be at the hospital the next morning. Eventually, the quarantine officers relented when they learned Bedard was indeed scheduled for an appointment on Feb. 18 at Sunnybrook. 

But there was a wrinkle, the officers said Bedard could go to Sunnybrook only if the hospital agreed to accept him from the quarantine hotel. Sunnybrook would not, so Bedard was not allowed to go to the hospital.

Bedard was upset. He had a letter from his employer explaining his job as providing critical electrical services for the Southern California Edison company, which is rebuilding the grid that was destroyed by California wildfires. As far as Bedard was concerned, he met the criteria for being an essential worker.

But more than that, he missed a necessary medical appointment with his oncologist.

Leaving quarantine

So from Wednesday, Feb. 17, through Thursday and a good part of Friday, Bedard was holed up in the hotel room. He was not happy. He said the room was musty and the food served was cold. 

While at the Radisson, he submitted to two additional COVID-19 tests, but nearly two days passed and no results were ready from the new tests (they eventually came back negative). Bedard decided he had enough. He grabbed his bags and walked out of the hotel.

He was offered a ride by a sympathetic citizen (one of several protesters who picket outside the Dixon Road Radisson every week) who drove him to Parry Sound where Terri met him and took him home to Val Caron.

The next evening, Saturday Feb. 20, two GSPS officers showed up to the couple’s door to serve Bedard with a $3,000 fine (plus a $755 victim surcharge) for leaving quarantine before the three days had elapsed.

Not only does Bedard feel the fine is unjustified, but also he said the information Sudbury Police released about him (although he was unnamed in the news release issued by GSPS) was wrong. Police said he returned to Canada on Feb. 19, when he had actually arrived two days before.

Bedard said he is fighting back. His defence is based on the premise he was exempt both as an essential worker and as a cancer patient, and he never should have been put into the quarantine system in the first place.

Health Canada has a long list of workers — from flight attendants to prisoner escorts, government workers on "government business" to ordinary truck drivers — who are exempt from the quarantine rules

The exemptions spell out that essential medical services qualify a person to sidestep the mandatory quarantine rules. The medical exemption is at the top of the list.

“A person who enters Canada for the purpose of receiving essential medical services or treatments within 36 hours of entering Canada, other than services or treatments related to COVID-19 as long as they remain under medical supervision for the 14-day period that begins on the day on which they enter Canada.”

The Health Canada exemption page also features a long list of workers who provide essential work and mentions critical infrastructure workers in the field of energy and utilities. 

Questions about the test

If there is one chink in the armour of Bedard's defence, it is the timing of the COVID-19 test he took before coming back to Canada. 

The law states that a COVID-19 test must be shown to be negative within 72 hours before boarding the scheduled flight departure time for coming back to Canada. Health Canada rules state the 72-hour time clock begins on the date on which the test was "conducted."

In Bedard's case, the lab report from a company called LabCorp indicates a sample was “collected” from him on Saturday, Feb. 13, timestamped “0000,” also interpreted as midnight. 

This might have presented a problem because the ‘0000’ timestamp might have put extra hours on the time clock. 

Also, if the Feb. 13 time stamp was accurate, more than three days — or 72 hours — would have passed from the time the sample was collected to the time the test results were reported.

Bedard told Sudbury.com he actually went for the test that Saturday afternoon around 4 p.m. not at ‘0000’ as the LabCorp document shows. LabCorp did not respond to a request for clarity regarding the testing time.

Based on the time Bedard said his test was submitted — 4 p.m. on Feb. 13 —  to the time he boarded his flight just after 10 a.m. on Feb. 17, three days and 18 hours would have passed (90 hours), more than the 72 hours allotted under Canadian legislation.

If the test was based on the time the nasal swab was received at the lab, at 8 a.m. on Monday Feb. 15, only two days and two hours (50 hours) would have passed. 

"My wife and I spoke before I went for the test about the requirements Canada had. We read it as being that I had to provide a negative test 72 hours before my flight. Maybe we read it wrong,” Bedard said in an email to Sudbury.com. 

“It should say the test should be performed three calendar days before the flight. After discussing with Terri (his wife), we agreed to do the test Saturday and it takes two to three days for the results to come in via email. I received the test results Tuesday and flew Wednesday, Feb. 17."

The Bedard's interpretation of the testing rules appears to be in error as he said the Public Health Agency of Canada officer at Pearson told him his test results were expired and not valid. 

He said she also told him that, in order to arrive in Canada with a negative test within the 72-hour limit, he could have been tested in California, flown to Canada and checked his results on arrival. That, Bedard said, doesn’t make any sense given requirements airlines have put in place for travellers.

"She also told me that I could have done the test in the 72 hours and then just checked the results once I landed in Canada. I told her that I wouldn’t be able to get on the plane without a negative result," he said.

Bedard is correct on that point. Both Air Canada and United Airlines have issued written documents saying passengers without a negative COVID-19 test would not be allowed to board their flight.

Bedard also disputes the interpretation of his role as an essential worker. He said he was told by the Health Canada worker at Pearson airport he was not considered "essential" as far as Canada was concerned. 

Sudbury.com reached out to Health Canada for clarity on this point regarding what is an essential worker and what isn’t, but we were told the ministry could not make an expert available to us. But as stated earlier, Sudbury.com did review the list of exempted workers and utility workers like Bedard are included on that list.

For her part, Bedard’s wife, Terri, said she is livid at what her husband endured. She is also unimpressed with the fact Greater Sudbury Police Service officers showed up at their house in Val Caron to fine him based, she said, on wrong information. 

"If we couldn't validate this and show the facts, we never would have challenged what was published," said Terri Bedard. "We feel we had done everything that could have been done to abide by the rules and yet we were dragged over the coals."

Bedard said she understands GSPS officers were merely doing their job, but said police could have considered the documents the Bedards had on hand to support their argument that he is exempt. 

The Bedard’s also have documents showing when the airline tickets were booked, when the initial COVID-19 test was taken along with the details of the medical appointment.

Sudbury.com asked GSPS if police are obligated to act on the direction of other government agencies or if they do any due diligence when accepting information from another agency. The question was not answered directly. Greater Sudbury Police Service issued the following statement.

"The information that was provided to us by PHAC (Public Health Agency of Canada) was that the individual left the Toronto quarantine facility prior to receiving negative test results/direction from Public Health. That in itself is an offence under the Quarantine Act. In relation to the Quarantine Act, we take direction directly from the Quarantine Officer from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Our Officers were directed to issue a Provincial Offence Notice in relation to the matter under the authority of the Quarantine Officer."

Bedard is not alone in his situation. Recent news reports from Toronto in recent days show that other residents arriving at the airport have had issues with quarantine officers not accepting their documents. In a statement to reporters last week, Peel Regional Police said it would not be stopping any passengers who refuse to go to the quarantine hotel. It said that the PHAC however, may choose to issue fines retroactively.

In the meantime, Bedard has returned to the United States where he was able to get a medical checkup and then return to work. 

Terri Bedard said the whole ordeal has made a difficult situation even worse. Terri said Michael works hard enough as it is without having to endure all the hurdles just to get home to spend time with his family. She added it has taken a personal toll on her as she tries to cope with the pressure. She said the stress and anxiety has been intense, saying she has lost six pounds in the past week.

"My blood pressure is through the roof. I've had heart palpitations. This has been completely absurd," she added. "We literally tried to do everything by the book and follow the rules and they've dragged us through the dirt."

The Bedards said they have not yet retained a lawyer.

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com, covering health care in Northeastern Ontario.




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About the Author: Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com covering health care in northeastern Ontario and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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