CALGARY -- It’s already an expensive trip, but Canadians flying back into the country are about to be paying a lot more to travel. 

New measures forcing air travellers to foot the bill for a mandatory hotel quarantine will come into effect on Feb. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.

That’s not sitting right with many Canadians, some who say they’re being punished for travel they deemed essential, but the government didn’t. 

“I just want the government to treat its own citizens with dignity,” Angelo Vanegas told CTV News. “We are humans, we have not committed a crime, it is not right that the government is treating its own people like this.”

Vanegas says he had to fly to Mexico for personal reasons last month. 

Upon arrival, despite having a valid COVID-19 negative test and a self-isolation plan, he was forced to stay in a federal-quarantine facility for two weeks. 

Vanegas believes it’s because the border agent didn’t like his isolation plan, which was at his family home. 

Quarantine hotel

“(So) someone takes you in a van with tinted windows and won’t tell you where you are going and once you arrive there, you’re not allowed to talk to anyone or to tell the location to family members,” Vanegas said. “It was scary, to say the least.”

The Edmontonian was forced to stay for 14 days at the Calgary Westin Hotel, which is one of 11 government-approved quarantine facilities in Canada. 

His personal experiences — secrecy, limited outdoor time and no medical guidance — have been similarly shared by many other Canadians. 

“Even though I had not committed a crime, I had not done anything wrong against the law, I felt like I was in jail for 14 days,” Vanegas said. 

That was last month. 

Starting on Feb. 22, the travel policy changes once again — and this time, it may be even more controversial. 

Under the new rules, travellers returning to Canada will be required to take a COVID-19 test at the airport at their own expense. They'll then be required to spend the first three days of their quarantine at a supervised hotel while awaiting their results, and foot the bill for their stay, expected to cost upwards of $2,000.

During a media briefing Friday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the hotels, located near the four international airports accepting foreign flights, will vary in cost, however the price of each stay will include hotel fees, food, and travel expenses.

Those with negative results will be allowed to board a connecting flight to their final destination within Canada and serve the remainder of their two-week quarantine at home, while those with positive tests will be sent to government-designated facilities.

Violators could face serious penalties, including six months in jail or up to $750,000 in fines. 

“We woke up last week to find out that we are now citizens of the former East Germany, can no longer freely come and go from Canada and are subject to incarceration at Prime Minister Trudeau’s pleasure,” Calgary Lawyer Jeffrey Rath said. 

“$600 a day for residing in a plastic-coated room in a Motel 6 seems a little bit extreme.”

Jeffrey Rath

Rath is fighting the new policy in federal court. No date has been set, but he’s confident his case is a good one. 

“We are challenging the constitutional infringement of the rights of all Canadians to freely enter or leave Canada,” he said. “We’re seeking a declaration that the government’s measures are completely unconstitutional.”

Trudeau says the rules aren’t meant to punish, but to protect the health of residents.

“Particularly in cases of new variants that are much more transmissible, it becomes extremely difficult to quarantine in a home and not pass this new variant to anyone else,” the Prime Minister said. “What we're doing is to keep all Canadians safe.”

Starting Feb.15, people arriving in Canada by land borders must also show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival.

As of Feb. 22, these travellers will also be required to take a COVID-19 molecular test on arrival, as well as towards the end of their 14-day quarantine.

In response to the new rules, the Government of Alberta is suspending its rapid testing program at the Calgary Airport.