Appearance at TRAN: Supplemental Mandate Letter and on the pre-entry testing requirements




DATE: JANUARY 12, 2021


  • Passenger safety is one of Transport Canada’s highest priorities.
  • The decision to allow passengers to remain in their vehicles was a temporary measure as part of a necessary response to the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19.
  • Remaining in a vehicle on an enclosed vehicle deck while a ferry is operating is not safe for passengers. The effects of a fire, flooding or collision could be catastrophic. Consequently the temporary flexibility ended as of September 30, 2020, and ferry passengers are no longer allowed to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks during a voyage.
  • We have learned a lot about COVID-19 and how to protect ourselves. Operators have implemented practices recommended by public health officials, including physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices, and requiring masks.
  • Transport Canada has worked in collaboration with ferry operators to ensure passengers are leaving their vehicles, and the majority of passengers have been compliant.


  • In 2007, significant safety concerns prompted Transport Canada to prohibit passengers from remaining in their vehicles in enclosed car decks when the vessel is underway.
  • The decision to allow passengers to remain in their vehicles was a temporary measure as part of a necessary response to the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19.
  • It provided flexibility as Transport Canada and our partners collectively worked to address both marine safety and public health risks.
  • Knowledge of how the virus spreads has evolved since the initial mitigation measures were implemented, and coupled with tailored health protection measures that have been developed, communicated and implemented in all public transportation sectors the marine safety case for ending the temporary flexibility to remain in vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks is clear.
  • Passengers can remain in their vehicles on open vehicle decks, on which there is a reduced safety risk.

No country in the world, as a general policy, allows people to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks, due to the inherent safety risk and potential for catastrophic loss of life. Canada was one of the few jurisdictions to briefly allow passengers to remain on enclosed vehicle decks during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also during these early stages, certain European countries allowed passengers to remain on open vehicle decks, but with very limited exception, not enclosed vehicle decks. However, this is no longer the case and these countries have returned to enforcing their normal restrictions.


  • Roll on Roll off (Ro-Ro) passenger ships are a popular form of ferry vessel. There are currently 27 ferries with enclosed vehicle decks in operation across Canada.
  • These vessels pose unique safety challenges with regards to fire, stability and evacuation. On enclosed vehicle decks, fueled vehicles, bulk and dangerous goods are often parked tightly together. In any event of fire, flooding or collision, it would be extremely difficult to evacuate everyone safely from the enclosed deck. Even in the event of a small fire with limited or controlled flames, smoke would spread quickly in the enclosed deck area, causing a breathing hazard and hampering rescue efforts. Fire or smoke-related incidents can occur on any vessel, regardless of the sailing conditions. These incidents aboard ships with enclosed car decks are happening on average more than twice a year in Canada.
  • In 1995, due to these concerns, and following several high profile accidents worldwide, the International Maritime Organization banned passenger access to the enclosed car deck while the vessel is underway. The practice was permitted in Canada until 2007 when Transport Canada’s Cargo, Fumigation and Tackle Regulations, enabled under the Canada Shipping Act 2001, were amended.
  • To support COVID-19-related physical-distancing measures, Transport Canada distributed an email notice to stakeholders on March 16, 2020, announcing that temporary flexibility would be granted to allow passengers to remain in their cars on enclosed decks on ferries. While section 152 of Transport Canada’s Cargo, Fumigation, and Tackle Regulations (the Regulations), which bans the practice, is still in place, this notice to stakeholders effectively neutralized the enforcement of the Regulations for the purpose of preventing community disease spread.
  • Similar flexibility was also implemented by a very limited number of other Marine Administrations, such as the United Kingdom. However, it was limited to semi-enclosed car decks, and prohibitions on fully enclosed car decks remained. As of July 31, 2020, ferry operators in the United Kingdom began transitioning back to their usual operations for all sailings, leaving Canada as one of the few countries with this temporary measure still in place.
  • Following analysis of health and safety considerations, alongside a review of the various mitigation measures being implemented by local health authorities across the country and partner administrations, Transport Canada concluded that the temporary measure was no longer justified.
  • Knowledge of how the virus spreads has evolved since the initial mitigation measures were implemented, and tailored health protection measures, developed in coordination with the Public Health Agency of Canada, have been communicated and implemented in the marine sector. These measures are designed to support enhanced hygiene and physical distancing of passengers in communal areas of a ferry and include, but are not limited to, provisons such as:
    • requesting that passengers stay in their vehicles on open car decks
    • The mandatory wearing of non-medical masks of face coverings
    • encouraging passengers to wash their hands before boarding the vessel;
    • ensuring there are facilities to allow all passengers and crew to wash their hands often with soap under warm running water for at least 20 seconds;
    • ensuring there is alcohol-based hand sanitizer (or equivalent) available to all passengers and crew;
    • enforcing mandatory physical distancing for all passengers on board; or
    • any other measures that might be recommended by a local health authority provided they do not contravene federal regulations.
  • Transport Canada’s regional offices reached out to operators of Ro-Ro ferries in summer 2020 to assess their ability to return to pre-COVID regulatory requirements. The majority of these operators indicated that they were prepared to return to normal procedures, provided reasonable notice was given. Three operators (Newfoundland’s Department of Transportation, Bay Ferries Limited/Northumberland Ferries Limited, and BC Ferries) requested the flexibility be extended, but have since complied with returning to their normal regulatory posture, following targeted discussions.
  • To support ferry operators as they transition from allowing passengers to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks, Transport Canada has developed new guidance material that provides additional explanation to the public outlining the dangers of remaining on an enclosed car deck. This was done in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada and ferry operators.
  • A protocol has been established between BC Ferries and Transport Canada to report cases of alleged non-compliance. Latest reports are showing very good compliance with the requirement over the past weeks.
  • In the Pacific Region, Transport Canada has also been working with the RCMP to carry out targeted operations on board vessels, in collaboration with BC Ferries, to raise awareness and directly address potential cases of non-compliance. Four such operations were carried out in 2020.
  • Since the BC travel advisory regarding non-essential travel, there has been reduced ridership on BC ferries and all passengers have generally been able to be situated on the open vehicle deck. As such, there is no immediate plan for additional joint RCMP-Transport Canada patrols to take place. However, should numbers of travelers begin to increase again, or cases on non-compliance rise, the Department is prepared to re-start patrols under short notice. The RCMP has also confirmed they will be able to conduct additional patrols if and when needed.
  • Transport Canada has the ability to fine passengers that do not follow its regulations. In the case of passengers refusing to leave their vehicles, fines can range from $600 to $12,000.