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Returning to Canada: can you avoid quarantine?


Any person, or almost, presently entering Canada is currently under the obligation to self-isolate for 14 days. What does this obligation, which has triggered any number of articles, entail? Natacha Mignon, immigration attorney and partner in Immetis, separates fact and fiction.


A restrictive order

The Minimizing the Risk of Exposure to COVID-19 in Canada Order (Mandatory Isolation) no. 4 regulates the new obligations linked to quarantine during a pandemic (the Order). The most restrictive measure of the Order imposes a 14-day period of self-isolation for anyone entering Canada by air or land.

The objective being to stop the spread of the virus, the measure applies whatever the nationality or immigration status (worker, student, permanent resident) of the person. The arrival date in Canada counts as the first day, whatever the time of entry in Canada. Therefore, if you enter Canada on 14th September at 10:00 PM, your quarantine will end on 28th September at midnight.

In effect since 25th March 2020, the quarantine will remain so until 30th September 2020, unless it is further extended.


Is it possible to avoid quarantine?

A question therefore has been tormenting those arriving in Canada over the past 6 months, namely, how to avoid having to self-isolate. We can confirm in the first instance : there are exceptions, but they are limited and controlled. Since it is a question of public health, there is, in addition, a societal responsibility in respecting this quarantine measure.

Before talking about the exceptions, we must set the record straight. Arriving in Canada with a COVID-19 test, being an essential worker, coming from a country which doesn’t impose quarantine on Canadians, or having self-isolated for 14 days before arriving in Canada, does not, by itself, exempt one from the 14-day isolation period.

Provided for in article 6 of the Order, most exceptions cover very specific situations, such as airline crews, members of the Canadian forces, those fighting COVID-19, those in the fishing sector, or members of the medical corps to a certain extent.

In this specific list, article 6(e) leaves room for interpretation and a path to apply for an exemption from quarantine, as it refers to a person entering Canada to supply an essential service.


Does the notion of essential service qualify for an exemption?

The notion of essential service is flexible. The definition is different in different ministries: Public Health Agency of Canada; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or Employment and Social Development Canada. For exemption from quarantine in the Order, we must turn to the notion defined by the Public Health Agency Canada which notably grants it to:

Technicians or specialists specified by a government, manufacturer, or company, who enter Canada as required for the purpose of maintaining, repairing, installing or inspecting equipment necessary to support critical infrastructure (Energy and Utilities, Information and Communication Technologies, Finance, Health, Food, Water, Transportation, Safety, Government and Manufacturing) and are required to provide their services within 14 days of their entry to Canada and have reasonable rationales for the immediacy of the work and the inability to plan for a 14 day quarantine.

Public Health Agency Canada

It is this latter exemption that is most used by private companies when applying or an exemption as it applies to different functions (technician or specialist) and to essential infrastructures in sectors as varied as  “Energy and Utilities, Information and Communication Technologies, Finance, Health, Food, Water, Transportation, Safety, Government and Manufacturing”.

The application for an exemption is usually made on arrival in Canada with an immigration agent. To satisfy the legitimacy of the application, it is recommended that a complete file be submitted to the agent demonstrating that all the exemption criteria have been fulfilled. We repeat : to work in an essential sector is a necessary condition, but not sufficient.

Documents to be submitted generally include : an invitation from the employer, a description of the on-site mandate, an outline of the epidemiological safety measures in place (eg the worker divides his time only between his home and the work place, and avoids all other outings for 14 days, etc), a list of the worker’s trips over the past 3 months, or even a negative COVID-19 test. Once exempted from quarantine, the person must of course abide by the pandemic prevention measures set out in the Order, namely social distancing and the wearing of a mask.

Please note that it is possible to limit the uncertainty of a quarantine exemption application submitted on arrival and to consult beforehand with the Public Health Agency Canada (PHAC) by email regarding a personal situation. The PHAC can provide an opinion, but will not issue a letter of exemption.


To cover all circumstances, please note that the quarantine, which cannot normally be “broken”, except for medical reasons, can also be the subject of a lifting of the measure, by notably proving that the person does not present a grave danger to public health.


Natacha Mignon, Immigration Attorney and partner at Immetis


The present article aims to supply general information regarding immigration, to popularize terms, and can in no way be considered as legal advice. This article discusses recent news, which is likely to evolve rapidly and jointly with the crisis. Last update: September 16, 2020. To obtain complete legal advice, please contact our professionals.


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