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

Coastal scenes at the forefront for July shows at Victoria galleries

From sculpture to landscape paintings, summer art is about nature

Victoria man collects 28 bags of trash along two-kilometre stretch of highway

20-year-old spent 12 hours collecting garbage near Thetis Lake

It’s showtime: Victoria theatre reopens with new COVID-19 protocols

Capitol 6 theatre and SilverCity Victoria have reopened with limited seating

Rapid bus system could increase frequency, reliability in Greater Victoria

BC Transit studies methods for improving major routes in Capital Region

13 new B.C. COVID-19 cases, Langley Lodge outbreak ends

Health care outbreaks down to four, 162 cases active

Two injured hikers airlifted from North Vancouver Island Park

Campbell River and Comox Search and Rescue hoist team rescued the injured from Cape Scott Provincial Park

Alberta health minister orders review into response after noose found in hospital in 2016

A piece of rope tied into a noose was found taped to the door of an operating room at the Grande Prairie Hospital in 2016

B.C.’s major rivers surge, sparking flood warnings

A persistent low pressure system over Alberta has led to several days of heavy rain

B.C.’s Indigenous rights law faces 2020 implementation deadline

Pipeline projects carry on as B.C. works on UN goals

‘Mind boggling’: B.C. man $1 million richer after winning Lotto 6/49 a second time

David O’Brien hopes to use his winnings to travel and of course keep playing the lottery

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

Lower Mainland teacher facing child pornography charges

Elazar Reshef, 52, has worked in the Delta School District

Most Read