Bad law makes us all into liars, or we believe our own lies and make them truth. Such is my family’s experience with Canada’s Quarantine Act following a trip to the United States on compassionate grounds.
Day One. We cross back into Canada by land. The Red Cross volunteers helping us to self-administer our COVID tests are as friendly as the border crossing guard was austere. One of them recommends a park to stop at on the way home with our baby. This recommendation, while welcome, is in direct contravention of quarantine requirements, which tell you to go straight to your destination, even with a baby, as if such a thing were possible. Lie number one.
The test we self-administer under the Red Cross’s watchful eye is our second COVID test, of course. We only entered Canada with our negative tests in hand, for which we paid US$200 a piece, plus expedited shipping, for a total of $C600, to meet Canada’s requirement that the test be within 72 hours of arrival.
Day Two. Having been in the car for an extended period of time with a baby, today involves our first breaking of house arrest. I go jogging with my baby in a stroller. We see no one, not even to wave from a distance. I’m not sure why I need to lie to officials about this, but I do.
Day Three. Today I realize walking to check our mailbox is against quarantine regulations.
Day Four. At this point we have received emails twice daily from the Government of Canada, some from Public Health, plus one automated voice message and two real people voice messages demanding we pick up from this number. The first call I’m able to pick up is for—wait for it—my baby. Is our baby getting the necessities of life? Has she needed to go anywhere? Had any visitors? Does she get enough fresh air? Wait a second—the government cares whether we are getting fresh air? Is this a trick question? They clearly are the arbiters of what constitutes enough fresh air. I say yes, we get fresh air. She presses me for more information. I opt for the truth saying “We are outside right now.” She stops asking.
She reminds me of the dangers of new variants and the fines for a failure to comply.
Day Five. It’s only with the next government caller on day five that I get the more intense version of the same phone call. This time it’s not for our baby, it’s for me, and they ask the same question about fresh air. I say yes, I’m getting it. She says: How? I say I go outside. She says: where? I repeat: outside. She says: Be more specific. I’ve read the quarantine act—I know what to say. I say the front and back yard. She affirms this is the correct response through her tone. Good, she says. She’s friendlier, but I wish she wasn’t. Mixing care and compliance doesn’t work.
Day Six. It’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday and I’ve already missed two calls. I pick up the third. An automated message this time, for my husband. Quarantine requirements don’t end on a weekend, but the enforcers apparently take a break, moving to robocalls.
Day Seven. It’s a Sunday. Are quarantine government officials religious? No one calls, which is nice, because my pulse rate goes up every time they do, and I’m anxious. All I do is fill out the daily online screening form repeating that we have no symptoms.
Day Eight. We get an in-person visit from a hapless fellow from a private security firm contracted to snoop on Canadians. He asks my husband the same questions that we would have been asked online. We’re downright quarantine busy at this point. Baby to bed, ID to stranger at door, COVID test online. Oddly, the visitor at the door doesn’t consider our family as a unit. All of these calls are only for one individual (hence the calls specifically for our baby).
The day eight COVID test is where I lose it. We use the online system to call in for our “appointment” and wait 45 minutes. A nurse, one of 200 hired to micromanage your COVID test, we learn, needs to see us do every step of the test right down to alcohol swabbing the package afterwards—the very package she instructs us to put in our fridge until pickup.
In all of this, she asks for my consent to use her iPhone to time my nose swabbing. I don’t give it. She says, “then can I count out loud?” It’s an episode of Life with Kafka, the new sitcom you don’t want to watch. I simply tell her to get ‘er done, in whatever way she needs since she has the power of the State to fine me $750,000 or put me in prison. I’m angry.
Day Nine. Today is spent trying to get the delivery company to come and pick up our day eight tests. The online system that was supposed to arrange it doesn’t, so we have to call to make sure they are still coming. Freedom hinges on this third negative test and I’m starting to feel desperate. After this test, if negative, there is no further purpose in maintaining quarantine for 14 days. Whatever COVID you are getting after three negative tests was not likely imported from abroad. But Canada’s regulations don’t allow that. (I think fear and power explain why three negative tests don’t mean freedom.)
Day Ten. Two missed calls, two automated calls to confirm compliance for the adults in the household, and a live person inquiring about our baby. I field the live person call from a neighbourhood park where we are entirely alone. They’ve dropped the question about getting fresh air, I note. I also get an email, saying “Every traveller entering Canada has a role to play to protect Canadians from COVID-19. Thank you for helping to flatten the curve.” Flatten the curve? How quaint.
At this point, I count 22 calls from the gouvernement for a family of three. Emails tally 17. And one in-person visit.
Day Eleven. At about noon I get my third negative COVID test back.
Days Twelve and Thirteen. A welcome peace descends in the form of no calls. No emails other than the reminder to do our symptom self check in. I feel my mental health improving.
Day Fourteen. What now? Stay home until midnight? How do we know if we are FINALLY SAFE!? I have half a mind to start calling the government line daily now myself as a joke: “Hi. I’ve tested negative three times. I work alone and I have no symptoms. When do I really, really know I’m COVID-free?”
Knowing the government doesn’t have a sense of humour, I refrain. It’s over. Thank goodness.
We have also become aware of just how many people are being employed by the new COVID regime. Nurses. Administrators. Delivery people. One fellow tells us he’s grateful for this new job as he lost his in the restaurant industry. I can’t blame him, but is spying on your neighbour a career path?
While I’m grateful we could go, I’ve become actively aware at this point that a police state is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy to set up. The government sees no difference between travelling to Wuhan or Wyoming. We already have a fearful populace, with an incentive to snitch. We have plenty of unemployed people needing to make a living in any way possible.
Many believe this quarantine is necessary. Many more may think we ought not have travelled at all. Some will have sympathy for the level of State intrusion into private citizens’ lives. Whatever your view, quarantine is, in the most basic sense, State surveillance over law-abiding citizens, a form of house arrest. It leaves me asking: Is this the Canada I want to come home to?
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