Premier Ford Backs Off Police Powers After Public Backlash

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Legal

Thunder Bay – NEWS – On Friday, Premier Ford announced sweeping new powers for Police in Ontario to stop people and vehicles as part of trimming back the spread of COVID-19 in the province.

Public backlash started almost immediately. Groups across the province protested that the new rules were an overreach and violated civil liberties.

Ontario Solicitor General Jones states, “It is critical for all Ontarians to respect the Stay-at-Home Order and stop the spread of COVID-19. Although the vast majority of Ontarians have respected the public health measures put in place, individuals continue to put others at risk by gathering with those outside of their household. Our priority has always been to address and discourage gatherings and crowds that violate the Stay-at-Home Order and have the potential to further spread COVID-19. That is why we provided police services with the additional temporary authority to enforce the Stay-at-Home Order by putting a stop to gatherings and crowds. The public health guidance remains for people to stay home.

“We have refocused O.Reg 8/21 Enforcement of COVID-19 Measures: If a police officer or other provincial offences officer has reason to suspect that you are participating in an organized public event or social gathering, they may require you to provide information to ensure you are complying with restrictions. Every individual who is required to provide a police officer or other provincial offences officer with information shall promptly comply.”

“As outlined in O.Reg 82/20 Rules for Areas in Stage 1, with limited exceptions, indoor social gatherings / public events are prohibited, and outdoor social gatherings / public events are limited to five (5) people – limited to members of your own household and one other person who lives alone.”

The Ford Government has now walked back those powers. Police officers no longer have the right to stop any pedestrian or driver in Ontario to ask why they’re out or to request their home address.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones made the change late Saturday.

The new rules will allow police to stop people only if they feel that they have a valid reason to believe that they are participating in an organized public event, or social gathering.

The move on Friday from the Ontario Government brought almost immediate promises of a legal challenge.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said, “We have today retained counsel and are preparing to go to court in the coming days, to challenge the Black Friday Regulation 294/21. In particular:

  1. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has retained Anil Kapoor, one of Canada’s leading criminal and constitutional lawyers, to lead a legal team being assembled as we speak, to launch a legal challenge before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, most likely by way of injunction. We expect to argue that Sections 7,8,9 and 15 of the Charter are violated by this regulation, but will not make legal submissions through the media, only to the courts.
  2. We are bringing a challenge as quickly as possible, in order to restore peoples’ freedom from arbitrary police stops. The regulation brings back the odious “driving while black” police stop, and introduces a “walking while black” offence. This is formalized, legalized carding, and that’s unconstitutional.
  3. I can’t tell you how many BIPOC people have contacted me about their fear of what happens when they step outside. Racialized minorities, their organizations and leaders, obviously deserve to speak for themselves on this matter, and it is not for me to speak on their behalf. I can only speak to and fight for our principles and constitutional laws of equality, and it is on that basis that we will seek judicial review of this regulation, in the coming days.
  4. Lastly, we urge the Attorney General of Canada to refer Ontario Reg 294/21 and its enabling legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada, for a constitutional reference on provincial legislation, as has been done from time to time, pursuant to the Supreme Court Act.”