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Could Canada enforce coronavirus self-isolation? Legal experts say yes

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Over the past week, Canadian officials have urged the public to practice social distancing, self-isolate and quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic — but what happens if that advice is ignored?

While officials have insisted that self-isolation is strongly advised in some circumstances, there are currently no plans to enforce it.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, dismissed the idea on Thursday, saying many Canadians are already following the rules.

“Our whole concept is to get everybody to do the right thing,” Dr. Tam said. “Based on other experiences like the SARS situation in Toronto, Canadians contribute by doing the right thing.” 

Dr. Tam noted that Canada does have legislation for cases when advice is not followed, but officials are “not aiming for that to be the key response.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed similar sentiments on Monday.

“If we put measures for mandatory self-isolation, as many people have looked for, there would need to be enforcement measures around that both by public health and public safety,” Trudeau said.

“We know that Canadians want to keep themselves and their families safe, and we are confident that people will do what is necessary to keep themselves, their loved ones and their neighbourhoods safe,” he added.

In other parts of the world, stronger measures have been taken to ensure those who need to stay home are actually doing so. 

In Hong Kong, travellers are being fastened with white electronic bracelets, while in parts of India, those who are quarantined are given stamps that read: “HOME QUARANTINED.”

In other countries, those not following orders can be arrested. Italy charged 40,000 people this week for not obeying quarantine orders.

While Canada has not enforced such strong measures, it can, according to University of Ottawa law professor Martha Jackman. 

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