Canada updates Quarantine Act

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Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew today introduced in Parliament legislation entitled: "An Act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases", which would help further protect Canadians from the importation of communicable diseases. The legislation would also ensure that Canada is meeting its international obligations to help prevent the spread of these diseases beyond Canada's borders.

"Updated quarantine legislation would add an additional layer of protection by providing strong, flexible, up-to-date legislative tools that allow us to respond quickly to an infectious disease outbreak in an age where travel times are measured in hours rather than weeks," said Minister Pettigrew.

The proposed Act would repeal and replace the existing Quarantine Act, which has remained largely unchanged since the adoption of the first Quarantine Act in 1872. It would apply to people coming into or leaving Canada, and conveyances (e.g., airlines, cargo ships) arriving in Canada or crossing Canadian water or airspace.

"This proposed legislation is the first in a series of legislative renewal initiatives to protect and improve the health and safety of Canadians," said Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of State (Public Health). "Other initiatives that will become a framework for addressing public health issues include the establishment of a new Public Health Agency of Canada and a Chief Public Health Officer, and the development of new Canadian health protection legislation."

Under the proposed Act, conveyance owners would be required to report an illness or the death of a passenger before arrival or departure. It would also provide the Minister with additional powers to, for example:

  • appoint Screening Officers, Quarantine Officers, and Environmental Assessment Officers;
  • establish quarantine facilities at any location in Canada;
  • take temporary possession of premises to use as a detention facility if necessary; and
  • divert conveyances (e.g., airlines, cargo ships) to alternate landing sites.

For the most part, the powers to screen, medically assess and detain travellers would remain unchanged. Where there are incidents or risks to public health, the proposed Act would continue to allow for public health measures at Canadian points of entry, such as:

  • screening travellers both entering and leaving Canada by Customs officials or detection devices;
  • referring travellers to a Quarantine Officer, who may conduct an initial health assessment, order a medical examination, vaccination or other prophylactic measures; order travellers to report to a local public health authority; or detain any person who refuses a medical examination, vaccination, etc.;
  • inspecting conveyances (e.g., airlines, cargo ships) and ordering decontamination, destruction, etc.; and
  • detaining passengers or conveyances until there is no longer a risk to public health.

Stakeholders including provincial/territorial government representatives, health professionals, industry, advocacy groups, and members of the Canadian public were consulted on the proposed legislation during broad-based health protection legislation consultations held across Canada between June 2003 and March 2004.

Provincial and territorial public health officials have a significant role to play in public health. They, along with other stakeholders, will continue to participate in the consultations that will follow the tabling of the Bill.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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