A Toronto bylaw officer hands a man a $750 ticket under anti-COVID-19 rules for having his dog off-leash in a park on Friday, April 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

Canadian pandemic fines top $13M as report says punitive approach ‘ineffective’

Quebec accounted for 77 per cent of the reported fines, while Ontario saw 18 per cent and Nova Scotia three per cent

Authorities in some provinces ramped up often arbitrary law enforcement to help curtail the COVID-19 pandemic rather than rely on a purely public health approach, according to a report out Wednesday.

The main problem, the report finds, is that marginalized or other vulnerable groups tended to bear the brunt of police and bylaw action.

“This report proves that we’ve got an ugly ticketing pandemic, replete with COVID carding and racial profiling, in central and eastern Canada,” Michael Bryant, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in a statement. “Somehow a public health crisis has been twisted into a public order crisis.”

Provinces across the country issued emergency orders with hefty penalties for violations in March, including closures of public spaces and physical distancing measures. Ticketing soon followed.

In one example cited in the report, a man walking his dog in Ottawa was fined $880 for standing in the wrong place. A bylaw officer in the city also tackled a man walking through a park with his daughter. He ended up with a bruised lip and a fine of more than $2,000.

One woman with her baby in Aurora, Ont., stepped off a park path to let others pass and was ticketed $880, prompting Premier Doug Ford to say the officers “could have used a little bit different judgment.”

According to the study by the association and the Policing the Pandemic Mapping Project co-founded at the universities of Toronto and Ottawa, police and bylaw officers issued at least 10,000 tickets or charges related to the pandemic between April 1 and June 15. The value of the fines was more than $13 million.

Quebec accounted for 77 per cent of the reported fines, while Ontario saw 18 per cent and Nova Scotia three per cent.

The findings, based in part on publicly available information such as news and police reports, were supplemented by reports from more than 100 people who reported COVID-related stops, searches and charges through the association’s online tracker.

Some said there was no basis for their tickets. Others maintained any infraction was trifling.

“Many of the experiences Canadians shared demonstrate how over-zealous, technical enforcement of confusing, broad and vague laws frequently led to fines that were completely disconnected with the goal of protecting public health,” states the report called “Stay off the Grass: COVID-19 and Law Enforcement in Canada.”

ALSO READ: B.C. records 13 new cases, one death of senior in longterm care

While some provinces such as British Columbia successfully resorted to messaging and other public health strategies to encourage compliance with the various measures, others opted for punitive enforcement.

“Police will be handing out more fines and, I repeat, the fines can vary from $1,000 to $6,000 per person,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault said in April. “That’s what people who don’t respect the rules deserve.”

In an interview, report co-author Abby Deshman said large data gaps exist but it is clear discriminatory police action occurred in the context of COVID-19. Black and Indigenous people, the homeless and recent immigrants were among those targeted.

“When the primary response that these communities see is a law-enforcement response, they do not seek help for their health and the health of their communities,” Deshman said. “They hide.”

Officers also singled out people in same-sex relationships by questioning them about their relationship, while ignoring heterosexual couples, she said.

The hefty fines — often a month’s rent or grocery budget — also had a disproportionate impact on recipients such as students, seniors on fixed incomes, single parents or the unemployed.

The report warns against a return to law-enforcement stops, searches and charges should a second COVID wave prompt a reprise of the lockdown. Punitive measures, it says, are simply counterproductive.

“Government leaders must resist the temptation — and the calls from scared constituents — to back up every public health recommendation with the force of law and give a carte blanche to law enforcement,” the report states. ”Trying to police our way out of this pandemic is unimaginative, sometimes unconstitutional and ineffective.”

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CanadaCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Interior Health will not expand Police and Crisis Team

Southeast Division Chief Superintendent Brad Haugli asked IH to expand the program

Gallery 2 reopens, offers video summer activities

The hand-washing sequence and the people-packed panoramas on display offer new interpretations

Mills oppose Celgar’s ask for cheaper logs destined for chipper

The Castlegar mill has asked the province for a lower rate for any log that goes straight to pulp

QUIZ: Put your knowledge of Canada to the test

How much do you know about our country?

Selkirk College offering employees voluntary resignations

The college is canvassing employees for those who may want some time off or reduced work loads

VIDEO: Musqueam Chief captures captivating footage of bald eagle catching meal

‘This is why we have chosen to live here since time immemorial,’ Chief Wayne Sparrow’s nephew says

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Liberal party finished 2019 having spent $43 million, raised $42 million

All political parties had until midnight June 30 to submit their financial reports for last year

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

Most Read