Updated: Feb 22
For the past 15 months, Canadians have been advised to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada, but the definition of “essential” travel is open to interpretation and personal judgment.
While it has not been against the rules to fly abroad, COVID-19 testing and quarantine measures, along with the reduced capacity of commercial airlines, have made travel difficult or even prohibitive.
However, many Canadians with the means to do so have been able to leave the country, particularly those with access to private aircraft.
A Global News analysis of data from various flight-tracking websites reveals that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated travel restrictions, private jets regularly used by wealthy Canadians have frequently flown in and out of the country, sometimes in ways that were not accessible to most Canadians.
Unlike commercial airline passengers, some private jet users may not have had to stay overnight in quarantine hotels.
The Government of Canada has advised all Canadians against non-essential travel, but it says it is up to each traveller “to decide what ‘non-essential travel’ means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors.”
“The government, in describing us as only doing essential travel, never gave any guidelines as to what essential was,” Prof. Marvin Ryder of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University told Global News.
In February 2021, the federal government introduced the requirement for almost all arriving international passengers to pre-book a non-refundable three-night stay at a government-authorized quarantine hotel.
Ottawa also mandated that most arriving passenger aircraft must land at one of four airports where the government-authorized hotels are located — Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver — with the exception of small “general aviation” aircraft.
None of the aircraft analyzed by Global News are classified by Transport Canada as “general aviation” aircraft.
But on many occasions, private jets — quickly flew-on to smaller Canadian airports where the outbound flights originated from.
Global News does not know if passengers remained on board for those onward flights, and there is no evidence that any laws or rules were broken.