Ottawa to introduce legislation to close loophole for quarantining travellers

The federal government says it will soon introduce legislation to close “an accident of law” that allows Canadians who travelled abroad to claim up to $1,000 in sick pay while quarantining back home.

Canadians have been been able to apply for the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) if they’re unable to work for at least half of their scheduled work week because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are isolating due to the virus.

However, the benefit has recently come under fire from critics who say pandemic aid could be going to Canadians completing their mandatory 14-day quarantine after returning from personal vacations abroad.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough announced today she will be proposing legislation so that international travellers who need to quarantine upon returning to Canada — including people returning from vacation, visiting loved ones and attending to real estate matters abroad — will not be eligible to receive support for the period of their mandatory quarantine, retroactive to Jan. 3, 2021.

Individuals who are exempt from the mandatory quarantine requirements under the Quarantine Act, such as health-care workers who need to cross the border for work, will still be eligible to apply.

“The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, along with the other recovery benefits, was never intended to incentivize or encourage Canadians to disregard public health advice,” reads Monday’s statement.

“Rather, these benefits were put in place to ensure Canadian workers could continue to make ends meet during the pandemic, and that no Canadian would have to make the choice between putting food on the table or going to work sick.”

Government has been signalling change

The government also said the Canada Revenue Agency is updating the application process for the benefit. Applicants will now need to indicate whether they were self-isolating or in quarantine due to international travel for claims covering a period beginning on or after Jan. 3.

According to the release, the CRA will delay processing claims for individuals who are self-isolating or in quarantine because of international travel for the coming weeks until the legislative process is complete.

Those who meet the sick benefit criteria are eligible for $500 per week — or $450 after taxes are withheld — for a maximum of two weeks. As of Jan. 3, about 299,090 unique applicants have accessed the benefit.

The Liberal government has been signalling plans to change the law since the new year.

“The idea that you can voluntarily decide to disrespect public health advice, go on an international trip and come back and, because you have to quarantine, somehow apply for a sickness benefit makes no sense at all,” Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics last week.

“It’s an accident of law.”

WATCH | Intergovernmental affairs minister calls benefit loophole ‘accident of law’

Dominic LeBlanc says the government will work with opposition parties to provide a legislative solution to the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit loophole. 2:08

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