How much freedom are we willing to give up, and for how long?
A month ago, it all would have been unthinkable. Government-mandated physical distancing rules. Expanded police powers. Big Brother snitch lines. Blockades at provincial borders. It
Under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, law enforcement can issue tickets to gatherings of five or more people in public or private spaces and to anyone using park facilities. These provincial orders are backed up by fines as high at $100,000 and the possibility of a year in jail.
Some cities have gone even farther. In Toronto, where police have vowed a “zero tolerance” policy, any two people who don’t live together and are found within two metres of each other will be subject to prosecution and a fine of up to $5,000.
In Quebec things are even darker, where police are stopping motorists and demanding to see their papers. The “bubble within the bubble” is a disturbing bit of state overreach ripe for abuse. A police state where a simple trip between municipalities involves police detention and questioning stinks of unconstitutionality. It also risks turning honest citizens who are trying their best to comply with stay-at-home orders against the very measures we all must embrace.
We all know we should stay home. “Enough is enough. Go home and stay home,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But the prime minister, unlike you and me, was able to cross the provincial border to see his family at the cottage over the long weekend. A steady paycheque, large house and access to outdoor space make it much easier to stay home. It is much harder for those not living in fancy Rockcliffe estates or sprawling suburban monster homes.
For some, staying at home is simply not an option. For many essential workers, an expansive category that includes thousands of minimum-wage and working-class individuals, staying home means losing their home. And urban populations, particularly apartment dwellers, who can’t stretch their legs in a large backyard or play with their kids at their double-garage basketball hoop, suffer disproportionately under the new COVID-19 reality.
There have already been mind-boggling examples of the state inappropriately flexing its enforcement muscles. Last week in Ottawa, two friends sitting on opposite ends of park bench were fined, so was a man who was walking his dog alone in a park and so was a young Syrian father who let his kids play in an empty playground.
These new restrictive laws, combined with the mule-headed reluctance of many municipalities, for example Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Watson, to embrace even small steps like partially closing roads to give pedestrians more space, is a recipe for an erosion of public confidence in our institutions. And just last week Ottawa Public Health scolded neighbours for talking to each other from their porches – then immediately walked back its baffling worry that these safe interactions would turn into a “backyard party.”
If approached by law enforcement about a COVID-19 issue you have the right to the reason you are being detained and the officers badge number. You should also make your won notes about what happened and call a lawyer as soon as possible.
Most importantly, don’t plead guilty. You have the right to a trial where you can challenge the ticket and the constitutionality of the officer’s actions
We all need to be in the fight against COVID-19 for the long haul. But when rules become absurd, incomprehensible and overly oppressive, they endanger the legitimacy of our pandemic response and create danger that the public will tune out.
The reality is that we cannot police our way out of this pandemic, nor should we.
If you need any legal assistance with COVID-19 or any other legal issues please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to help and initial consultations are always free.