Auditor criticizes pandemic border measure enforcement, other COVID-19 responses


Published December 9, 2021 at 2:10 pm

OTTAWA — The auditor general has found Canada failed to adequately enforce border measures designed to keep international travellers from importing cases of COVID-19 into the country, just as the government reintroduces several stringent rules in response to the spreading Omicron variant.

The auditor’s report was tabled in the House of Commons Thursday afternoon, along with several other reports on Canada’s pandemic response.

While auditor general Karen Hogan gave the agency credit for improving its systems since the early days of the pandemic with the introduction of the ArriveCan app, there were still notable gaps in tracking COVID-19 test results and compliance with quarantine orders.

Her assessment of Canada’s poor enforcement of quarantine and COVID-19 test mandates examined the period between July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021.

The Public Health Agency of Canada only had records to verify 25 per cent of mandatory quarantine-hotel stays, for example.

Meanwhile the government had no idea what became of 59 per cent of travellers suspected of flouting quarantine orders, after the agency referred their suspicions to law enforcement.

Meanwhile the auditor had scathing words about the inspections intended to ensure agricultural producers are properly protecting migrant workers from COVID-19, following numerous outbreaks among temporary foreign workers at farms since the start of the pandemic.

The Liberal government promised new requirements for agricultural producers as well as tens of millions in new funding last year to protect from COVID-19 the roughly 50,000 people who come to Canada as seasonal farm workers each year.

Yet while government inspectors deemed virtually all farms compliant with those regulations, Hogan says the vast majority of those passing grades came without proper inspections.

And in some cases, inspectors overlooked or ignored evidence suggesting employers were violating requirements, leaving workers at greater risk of getting sick.

In a separate report, the auditor found that Canada failed to develop a national emergency response plan for a crisis affecting Canadians’ food security, even though the government has identified food as a “critical infrastructure” since 2009.

In the early days of the pandemic, a “lack of comprehensive emergency preparedness” affected Agriculture Canada’s response to the crisis. An emergency plan drawn up in 2019 was not implemented because it was “insufficient to tackle a governmentwide response to a crisis affecting all of society.”

Despite this, government departments and agencies managed to swiftly create new emergency food programs, using mechanisms already in place.

She did commend the government for its quick rollout of a regional relief and recovery fund to alleviate financial burdens on businesses and organizations during the pandemic, but found there were some weaknesses in the delivery that made the fund less efficient and fair.

Regional agencies were not consistent in their requirements for applicants, and interpreted the eligibility criteria differently, her report said.

The auditor recommended that agencies use a gender-based analysis and collect other data to inform decision-making for under-represented groups for future programs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021.

— With files from Lee Berthiaume, Erika Ibrahim and Marie Woolf

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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