EXCLUSIVE: ‘Canada will put you up’

Mary and Chuck Hollingsworth of Watford had their eyes opened to what the US thinks of Canadian travel restrictions and just how much their government is spending to quarantine travellers.

Watford couple shocked by US airline attendant’s treatment and the fact Canada has shelled out $37.1 million to quarantine travellers since April

A Watford couple returning from their daughter’s Michigan wedding say a US flight attendant was spinning tall tales about travelling into Canada.

But the biggest tale of all turned out to be true.

The federal government has spent $37.1 million to house 2,036 people who had no plan to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in this country. That’s more than $18,000 per person.

The story begins in March. Mary and Chuck Hollingsworth’s soon-to-be son in law visits Watford for the weekend. It was the last time the Hollingsworths and their daughter, Becky, would see him as the border closed and restrictions tightened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the end of July, Becky had arranged to fly to Michigan to be with her fiancé. By August, the Hollingsworths were on a plane to Michigan, too, to witness their daughter’s small wedding on the courthouse steps.

The couple’s journey was nine hours since Canadians cannot drive into the US but may enter the country by air.

The wedding went off without a hitch and the Watford couple were on their way home. But their trip hit a bump when a Delta Airlines attendant took one look at their Nexxus pass and said they wouldn’t be allowed back into Canada without an actual passport.

“Then he says ‘the plane is going to fly in 10 minutes.’” At that point, Hollingsworth wasn’t sure they would be on the plane.

The attendant got on the phone to figure out if indeed the couple could enter Canada on the preferred traveller card. And, in the meantime, made some interesting claims about entering Canada.

According to Hollingsworth, the attendant implied Canada was “stupid” because it wouldn’t allow N95 masks on the plane, only paper surgical masks.

And then Hollingsworth said he told the Canada bound passengers “‘if you do not have a place to go for your first 14 days, Canada will put you up in one of their motels and they will look after you. You just have to let me know before you board the plane.’”

Hollingsworth was floored by the suggestion.

The couple eventually got through the airport and boarded the plane home.

The couple landed in Toronto and were surprised to find what the US flight attendant said may have been correct after all.

“The shuttle, per se, was there, waiting for those people that were going to their cottages but had to be put up – with our accommodations for the first 14 days,” she says.

The idea angered her, so a day later, she started calling local politicians to see if this was in fact true. Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MP Lianne Rood’s office could confirm that the practice was taking place, but couldn’t tell Hollingsworth any other details.

The Watford woman told the assistant she was “like a dog with a bone. I said ‘I’m going to find out from somebody whether this is true or not.’”

So, she called The Independent. After a few inquires, we found the flight attendant’s statement was true and it is costing Canadian taxpayers a lot of money.

“Travellers are expected to make their quarantine plan arrangements in advance,” writes Natalie Mohamed, media relations officer for Public Health Canada in an email to The Independent.

“If they cannot demonstrate a suitable plan upon entry into Canada, the Border Services Officer will make a referral to a PHAC Officer for further assessment. Travellers who are unable to quarantine in their own place of residence should consider alternatives within their financial means such as booking a hotel/motel room or other paid housing alternative, or staying with friends or family.

“In cases where it is deemed necessary by a PHAC Officer, and as a last resort when no other quarantine options are available, travellers may be sent to a federally designated quarantine facility.”

There are seven federal quarantine sites in the major cities of the country, including Toronto. Since April 1, 2,036 people have been lodged there – including 245 who are in the centres at press time.

“Travellers who are required by a Quarantine Officer to quarantine or isolate in a designated quarantine facility are not required to pay for the costs associated with their stay. Transportation to the facility is also provided at no cost to the traveller,” says Mohamed.

“When travellers are in a quarantine facility, they are provided with three meals daily and other essentials. All of these items are delivered to their rooms. They also have access to a toll-free phone number where they can identify essential items that they require.

“Travellers also receive regular daily health checks during which they can discuss any concerns they may have.”

All this, Mohamed says, has cost taxpayers $37.1 million so far. That’s just over $18,000 per person who was in quarantine.

Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu says that seems like a lot of money for the program.
“I understand the government’s desire to make sure Canadians are protected by having people self isolate,” she says adding some of her constituents who found themselves in this position because they weren’t able to go into the campground immediately.

“The government is obviously weighing the cost of having COVID-19 spread versus the cost of putting people up. But again, it is a lot of money.

“This is why the Conservatives have asked the auditor general be given the money to audit all of the $343 billion worth of COVID spending.”

Gladu says so far, the government hasn’t agreed to the move.

“We need to question the spend…I agree with the government’s approach to try to protect Canadians, to make sure we’re not having people coming over from other countries bringing COVID in, but at the same time it is the taxpayers’ dollar.”

That is exactly what bothers Hollingsworth as she sits at home in 14 days of self isolation.

“You and me and Fred down the street pay for it all.”