Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is making changes to the $1,000 sickness benefit, closing a loophole to make sure anyone who travels for non-essential reasons will not be able to access it to cover the cost of their quarantine upon return to Canada.
In his first speech at Rideau Cottage in 2021, Trudeau condemned those who travelled internationally over the holiday season. His office has confirmed to CTV News that the prime minister has not travelled and spent the holidays at home with his family.
“No one should be vacationing abroad right now,” Trudeau said, vowing more details soon about how the government will ensure those claiming this COVID-19 benefit are eligible.
“So many people gave up so much more than just a vacation over the holidays. There’s a reason so many Canadians made those tough, but responsible decisions. There’s a reason so many Canadians did their part. It was for the people around them,” he said.
First announced last summer, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CSRB) was designed to provide $500 per week for up to two weeks, for workers who are sick or must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19, or have underlying conditions that would make them more susceptible to the novel coronavirus.
However, concerns have been raised about Canadians claiming this benefit to cover time off work while completing 14 days of compulsory self-isolation after they returned to Canada from the travel trip.
“It is not intended for travellers who are quarantining when they return from holiday. This program was created to give people sick leave if they needed it and otherwise wouldn’t have one from their employer. It’s not there to pay for someone’s post-vacation quarantine,” said Trudeau.
“We didn’t bring it in, and we didn’t imagine when we passed it unanimously in the House with the support of all parties, that people would use it to pay for their quarantines after having gone south for a two-week vacation. So that is something we are going to fix right now, we’re looking at ways of doing it,” said Trudeau, adding he’s tasked the ministers responsible to “rapidly” come up with a solution.
It is not yet clear if this change is likely to come before Parliament returns to action at the end of the month.
Trudeau highlighted that Canadians who choose to conduct non-essential travel do so at their own risk, against federal guidance, and will be required to show a negative COVID-19 test before returning home.
As well, the government is putting in place additional screening measures, and federal officials will continue to be reviewing returning traveller’s isolation plans and those with insufficient plans will have to spend their 14 days in a federal facility.
“You need to take this seriously. Not following the rules could mean real consequences, including fines and prison time,” Trudeau said.
As well, the prime minister said that part of the reason the government continues to strongly advise against travel is that if Canadians choose to leave Canada amid the COVID-19 pandemic and end up stranded abroad, the federal government has no plans to conduct mass repatriation efforts such as those seen in the early months of the pandemic.
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