Canadians have been charged $5.8 million in fines for violating public health measures during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by Policing the Pandemic.
The mapping project, created by University of Ottawa criminology postdoctoral fellow Alex McClelland and University of Toronto criminology doctoral student Alex Luscombe, has found a total of 4,575 people that have been ticketed or charged across the country.
In a report released this week, the pair found that the majority of infractions occurred in Quebec (3,048), followed by Ontario (930), Nova Scotia (516) and Alberta (44).
“We cannot say these are unique individuals as some people have already been fined/charged multiple times since police responses to COVID-19 began,” the report states.
Between April 3 and May 4, Toronto bylaw and police officers have issued 598 tickets, according to the city. Fines are $750, but breaking the laws can also result in six-figure fines and prison time, although police officials have said charges will only be laid as a last resort.
Policing the Pandemic’s report notes that other provinces have seen fewer enforcement actions compared with the top four, with less than 15 per province. However, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba have seen a small uptick in enforcement measures, the report says.
In Saskatchewan, tickets for alleged COVID-related violations are also the highest – starting at $2,000. The next highest is Quebec, where fines start at $1,546.
Most fines have been for people failing to obey physical distancing rules (4,398), with Quebec raking in $4,696,288 – well ahead of Ontario, which has issued $700,440 in fines.
Ontario leads the nation in charging businesses owners who continue to operate a non-essential business at $71,500 in fines, the report found.
Civil liberties groups and homelessness activists have criticized the enforcement measures as an encroachment on rights and suggested the rules could marginalize already vulnerable populations further.
Although Luscombe and McClelland said in a previous report they were concerned that other provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba would scale-up enforcement to the extent of Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia, that hasn’t happened.
In Toronto, city officials were ticketing people on park benches and later back-pedalled following a backlash.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has called on Ontario to clarify the process of fighting a physical distancing ticket.
“Usually you have to go to a court office within 15 days to say you want to fight a ticket, but most court offices are currently closed,” the organization said in a statement, adding that it has asked the government “make it clear that people don’t have to take any steps related to these tickets until the emergency declaration is over.”