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

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

Just Posted

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. As of April 19, more than 230,000 doses have been administered across the Interior Health region. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
More than 230K doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across Interior Health

A total of 220,216 first doses and 13,775 second doses have been given to residents across the B.C. Interior

The City of Penticton is beginning work to install gates at the 200 Block breezeway on Main Street. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News file)
Penticton breezeway closed while city installs ‘decorative’ gates

The gates, estimated to cost $20k, are being installed to prevent ‘unwanted activity’

Louise with another load of bottles for ALERT. This super volunteer helps ALERT in so many ways. (Submitted)
Meet Penticton super volunteer Louise Hivon

Louise spearheads ALERT’s recycling fundraising, collecting bottles from anyone, everywhere

Oliver
A couple more South Okanagan schools with COVID-19 exposures

Penticton Christian School adds more exposure days, Oliver Elementary new on the list

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
Out-of-region B.C. vacation bookings, RV ferry reservations to be refused, Horgan says

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Vernon Search and Rescue’s helicopter team was asked to be on standby to rescue a missing hiker in Naramata. (Air Rescue One/VSAR photo)
Lost hiker rescued in Okanagan Mountain Park

COSAR, PENSAR, and VSAR worked together to rescue a hiker in Okanagan Mountain Park

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Increased COVID-19 activity brings vaccine clinic to Enderby

Registration opens Tuesday, April 20 for May clinic for anyone over the age of 18

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

courts
Penticton man guilty of assaulting young boys

Bryan Lamb was found guilty of two counts of assault

Abandoned Rail Brewing Company, located at 1220 Davenport Ave. on the KVR trail, has applied to the City of Penticton for a manufacturing facility and lounge endorsement. The city will review the application in their April 20, 2021 council meeting. (City of Penticton photo)
A new brewery could be coming to the KVR trail in the South Okanagan

The patio would seat up to 113 just 10 feet from the trail

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BREAKING: Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Most Read