Ontario police may be able to ‘interrogate anyone, anytime, anywhere’ with ‘excessive’ new COVID-19 powers, lawyer says

Ahmar Khan
·5-min read

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government made the decision to increase police powers in the midst of the province’s latest lockdown as a result of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Police officers in the province will now be able to stop people and vehicles to question them about being out of their homes as part of the stay-at-home orders. People will also be required to provide their home address to officers if asked.

"Police will also have the authority to stop a vehicle to inquire about an individual’s reason for leaving their residence,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.

The province will need at least 100,000 vaccinations per day to get through the third wave, according to Ontario’s Science Advisory Board. Currently, Ontario has tallied two straight days of COVID-19 cases over 4,000 with the peak coming on Friday, Apr. 16 at 4,812 new cases. As a result of the rising numbers, the Ford government made the decision on Friday to extend the stay-at-home orders whilst installing police greater authority.

What the Ontario police will be able to do

“We have made the deliberate decision to temporarily enhance police officers authority for the duration of the stay at home order. Moving forward, police will have the authority to require any individual who is not in a place of residence to first provide the purpose for not being at home and provide their home address,” said Jones.

The information from the Ontario government reads that effective Saturday, "police officers and other provincial offences officers will have the authority to require any individual to provide their home address and purpose for not being at their residence."

"In addition, police officers, special constables and First Nation Constables will have the authority to stop vehicles to inquire about an individual's reasons for leaving their home. This additional enforcement tool will only be in effect during the Stay-at-Home order and exclusively to enforce the Stay-at-Home order."

Racialized communities will 'bear brunt' of the 'excessive power'

The option to increase police powers is a bit alarming and unsettling to Chris Rudnicki, a partner and legal counsel at Rusonik, O'Connor, Robbins, Ross, Gorham and Angelini, who admitted he's concerned there could be some overstepping by police and are constitutionally concerning.

“In the absence of reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed, every person in Canada has the right to go as they please. These new provisions undermine this core right in that they permit police to detain and interrogate anyone, anytime, anywhere, in the absence of any reason to think they may be committing an offence. In my opinion, they are unconstitutionally overboard.”

Moreover, Rudnicki, who is often a legal counsel for people of colour and minority groups, admits this will disproportionately affect people of colour, Black and minority groups in a negative manner. Through his experience, it's usually a shortsighted decision when the government decides to enhance the powers of police, especially in racialized communities.

“Communities of colour have made substantial progress in ending the unconstitutional practice of carding in recent years; these provisions roll back that progress by explicitly authorizing arbitrary detention and interrogation," said Rudnicki. "It is virtually certain that racialized and Indigenous people will bear the brunt of this new and excessive power.”

Ontario residents took to social media to agree with the sentiment: 

 

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When asked why the government opted to take this route, Jones insisted it was because people weren’t staying put at home and following the government’s recommendations, so a heavy-handed approach was needed. People who don’t comply with the new regulations can be issued a ticket for a minimum of $750 which under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

“I cannot stress this enough. It is imperative that everyone limit their trips outside of the home to permitted purposes only, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, medical appointments, outdoor exercise, or for work, that cannot be done remotely.”

People will be allowed to leave their homes for essential purposes like accessing health care services, work, exercise and going to the grocery or drug store. Social gatherings and organized public events will not be permitted, while outdoor recreation areas like basketball courts and golf courses will be shut down.

There will also be greater scrutiny and police presence at the border, where checkpoints are set to begin as of Monday. Ontario will be limiting access to Manitoba and Quebec by road.

The stay-at-home order will be in effect until at least May 20.