In a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario (and encourage the public to either stay at home or practice proper social distancing), police officers across the province have been granted temporary power to obtain identifying information of Ontarians violating the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA).
The move—approved by the Ontario government on March 31 through an emergency order—will require anyone who disobeys the act to identify themselves if asked by a police officer, First Nations constable, special constable, or municipal by-law enforcement officer.
Failure to comply with an emergency order carries a fine of $750, or $1,000 for “obstructing any person in exercising a power” if a provincial offences officer issues a ticket. Harsher punishments could include up to one-year imprisonment, or a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director of a corporation, or $10,000,000 for a corporation if a provincial offences officer charges the individual by issuing a summons.
In a statement, Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General, called the move essential.
“By providing provincial offences officers with this temporary power to obtain identifying information under the EMCPA, they will be able to enforce emergency orders during these extraordinary times,” Jones stated.
On Monday, the Ontario government extended the Declaration of Emergency and associated emergency measures, in effect until April 14, 2020. Measures include the closure of non-essential workplaces and restrictions on social gatherings. In addition, they issued a new emergency order, based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, to close all outdoor recreational amenities, including sports fields, playgrounds, basketball courts, beaches, outdoor community gardens, and picnic areas, effective immediately (click here for the full list of closures).
“It is the responsibility of all Ontarians to do their part and respect the emergency orders in place. We are supporting provincial offences officer in their critical work to enforce that responsibility and ensure the safety and well-being of Ontarians,” Jones added.
Social media reaction over the new measures has been mixed:
“Failing to correctly identify oneself carries a fine of $750 for failure to comply with an order made under the EMCPA or $1,000”
white people hanging out at bellwoods or the lakeshore today know this isn’t for them—carding never has been. this order is perilous for black folks pic.twitter.com/EubHPqTqJG
— negro frolics (@DesmondCole) April 1, 2020
Just FYI – Toronto Police are not playing – if you break social distancing rules. As of today, TPS issued tickets to 9 people for ‘failing to comply with the closure of park amenities or social gatherings of 5 or more people.’ Each tickets was for $750. #STAYHOME #COVID19
— Aarti Pole (@aartipole) March 31, 2020
Posts have been circling about officers allegedly issuing tickets to drivers in Toronto for carpooling or simply being out of their homes—although officers have confounded these rumours.
— TheMuslimLawyer (@faisalkutty) April 1, 2020
Amidst the new police powers, at least five Toronto Police Service members have tested positive for COVID-19: one from police headquarters, three from 14 Division, and one from 23 Division, according to the Toronto Police Service (TPA).
TPA President Mike McCormack also confirmed with CP24 that approximately 500 members are currently in self-isolation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said it is not currently impacting frontline services.
“A lot of people were returning from March Break and they were asked to self-isolate and that’s what they’ve done,” he told CP24, confirming that the officers in isolation have not been diagnosed with the virus.