Online map tracks police charges related to COVID-19

Maps tracking and predicting the spread of COVID-19 around the globe and in Canada have become popular online resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now there’s a new map tracking criminal charges that are laid under new laws that governments, including the city of Toronto, are passing to enforce physical distancing rules. Breaking the laws can result in six-figure fines and prison time, although police officials have said charges will be laid as a last resort.

The map, Policing The Pandemic, was created by Alex McClelland, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa’s criminology department, and Alex Luscombe, a doctoral student in the University of Toronto’s criminology department.

McClelland recently argued that increased police measures have the potential to harm marginalized populations in an op-ed for NOW. “Unlike effective HIV prevention approaches that emphasize community behavioural changes, policing discourages testing and drives people away from seeking health care,” he wrote.

He tells NOW the new map is another way to visually understand the pandemic.

“We are concerned about the ways in which increased police power and authoritarianism will add to the crisis, and tracking responses this way helps us to understand what is going on around the country, who is being targeted, what kinds of laws are being used, and what kinds of justifications are being used by police,” he said.

The map compiles data gleaned from media reports and articles, as well as police communications including social media accounts, and notes whether the charge is related to criminal, emergency or public health laws.

As of press time, the McClelland and Luscombe have 30 incidents across Canada. 

Over the weekend, Toronto Public Health officials and police initiated a “blitz” to enforce the city’s new physical distancing bylaw. On Sunday, the city said enforcement staff spoke with 780 people “to educate them on public health recommendations and closures” and cautioned an additional 373 people.

Police issued nine tickets while Municipal Licensing and Standards officers gave out one ticket related to park amenities and five to non-essential businesses that were operating in violation of provincial orders. 


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