Ontario puts restrictions on inter-provincial travel, boosts police powers

During the stay-at-home order, police officers will now be able to stop people and ask why they are outside

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced checkpoints will be set up on the borders with Quebec and Manitoba to restrict non-essential inter-provincial travel.

The move is among a series of new restrictions, including boosting police authority to stop people and vehicles, intended to clamp down on exponential growth in COVID-19 cases and surging intensive care unit admissions, which are expected to reach between 1,500 and 2,000 in a month’s time.

“We’re losing the battle between the variants and vaccines. The pace of our vaccine supply has not kept up with the spread of the new COVID variants,” Ford said during a Queen’s Park news conference. “We are on our heels. But if we dig in, remain steadfast we can turn this around.”

Effective immediately, Ford is extending the emergency declaration and prolonging the stay-at-home order for two more weeks for a total of six weeks. The order, which closes restaurants and most retail to in-person customers, is now scheduled to expire on May 19.

The travel restrictions will take effect on April 19 at 12:01 am. Exemptions will be made for work, medical care, transportation of goods and exercising Indigenous treaty rights. People who do not meet this criteria will be turned back, Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones said.

Additionally, Ford said the province will increase vaccine supply to hot spots by 25 per cent, restrict outdoor gatherings to members of the same household (people who live alone can join one other household), close non-essential construction workplaces (shopping malls, office towers), step up inspections of workplaces, close outdoor recreational amenities (including playgrounds, basketball courts and golf courses), and further reduce retail capacity to 25 per cent.

The new measures will take effect at 12:01 am on April 17.

On Monday at 12:01 am, capacity in places of worship and for weddings will be reduced to 10 people indoors. Drive-in services will still be allowed.

Earlier today, the co-chair of the Ontario science advisory table presented modelling data that predicted the province could see up to 30,000 new COVID-19 cases per day by the end of May without stricter measures.

In the best-case scenario, the province’s curve would flatten to around 5,000 cases or less over the next six-weeks assuming Ontario continues doing at least 100,000 vaccinations per day. Ford said the province needs to be able to do 300,000 vaccinations per day in order to flatten the curve.

To enforce the new measures, Jones said police will have temporary authority to stop people, ask for their purpose for not being at home and ask them to provide their home address. Officers will also have the authority to stop a vehicle to inquire about an individual’s reason for leaving their residence.

“After consulting with public health experts, we have made the deliberate decision to temporarily enhance police officers’ authority for the duration of the stay-at-home order,” Jones said. “If you are not willing to comply, then you are breaking the law and there is an option for a police officer to issue a ticket.”

In response, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the stepped-up police powers risks “a rash of racial profiling.”

“It’s a Black Friday of rights slashing by Queen’s Park today, risking a rash of racial profiling and overbroad police powers, presuming everyone outside guilty until proven otherwise,” the organization tweeted. “The mobility rights restrictions fail to achieve constitutional proportionality.”

Mayor John Tory said he is “very concerned” about the beefed up police powers.

“City staff are carefully reviewing the new provincial measures announced today and we will have more to say in the days ahead,” Tory said in a statement on Friday evening. “I am very concerned about arbitrary stops of people by police at any time and I will be reviewing the regulations extremely carefully and discussing them with the Medical Officer of Health and the Toronto Police Chief.”

Doctors and public health officials have increasingly sounded alarms that the third wave spiralling out of control due to highly contagious COVID-19 variants, which now comprise 70 per cent of the province’s reported cases. In the last two weeks, the province has seen a 67 percent growth in hospitalizations and 51 per cent growth in ICU occupancy.

Hospitals in Toronto are setting up field hospitals as intensive care unit admissions continue climbing. Province-wide ICU admissions reached 701 this morning – a new high. There are approximately 2,300 ICU beds in Ontario.

The province also confirmed a record-high single day increase in new cases of 4,812.

Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, said on Twitter on Friday morning that ICU doctors will soon be “forced to decide who lives and who dies once triage become the only option.”

“I cannot see a situation where some degree of ICU triage does not happen in Ontario,” he wrote. “Demand will outstrip supply of staffed beds. In addition to being cruel and unfair to our future patients, this will break the back of health-care workers.”

During today’s data modelling presentation, Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the science table, said COVID-19 cases will remain high through the summer months if stricter measures are not enacted.

He said only essential workplaces should be open right now, and those workplaces should be kept safe with enforcement. He also said workers should receive extra financial support so they are able to stay home from work when sick without fear of losing income or employment.

Brown added that the vaccination campaign must be “laser-focused” on high-risk areas, which are home to essential workers who often live in crowded households.

“Vaccination is not reaching people at high risk fast enough to overcome the level of serious risk in our communities and our hospitals,” he said.

Today’s announcement did not include added sick pay benefits to amplify the federal sick-pay program.

This story was updated to include a statement from Toronto Mayor John Tory.


Comments (1)

  • Joe andely April 17, 2021 01:19 PM

    People that are walking and driving around are not spreading the virus. It is those who interact with others in closed enviromments such as workers, churches, schools, party goeers who are spreading the virus.

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