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Police forces across Ontario are refusing to heed Premier Doug Ford's call to step-up street checks during the stay-at-home order
Ontario Premier Doug Ford gave police temporary powers to conduct random spot checks of people and vehicles for the duration of the stay-at-home order – but police in Toronto say they won’t follow suit.
“New emergency orders announced yesterday to help limit the spread of COVID-19 are now in effect,” the force said in a statement on Saturday morning. “The Toronto Police Service will continue to engage, educate and enforce, but we will not be doing random stops of people or cars.
“We can all do our part for the health & safety of everyone,” the statement continues. “The Toronto Police Service will continue to engage and enforce equitably and effectively, recognizing always that we must inspire public trust.”
The beefed up police powers were among stricter public health rules Ford announced on Friday as the pandemic continues to spiral out of control in Ontario and overwhelm the health-care system.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said police would be given authority to stop people and ask for their purpose for not being at home and ask them to provide their home address.
“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.”
Tickets could come with fines of $750.
Toronto Police are among several local police forces that have refused to use the powers. Police in Waterloo, London, Peel Region, Peterborough, Durham Region, Niagara Region, Ottawa and Halton Region have all issued statements saying they will not be conducting random stops.
“We are very mindful of the perceptions of the broader public as well as within our more marginalized, racialized and/or Indigenous/Aboriginal/Inuit peoples,” said Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly in a statement. “We do not want these powers to impact public trust.”
Ford’s new measures, which also include the closing of playgrounds and other outdoor recreational amenities, have faced widespread criticism from medical professionals for not targeting essential workers with new supports, such as sick-pay benefits.
Increased financial support for vulnerable essential workers was among the recommendations made by Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s science advisory table, during a data modelling presentation on Friday that showed daily cases could hit 30,000 by May if no new restrictions are implemented.
“Without stronger system-level measures and immediate support for essential workers and high-risk communities, high case rates will persist through the summer,” Brown said, adding stepped-up enforcement of essential workplaces and “laser-focused” vaccinations on hot spots are needed.
Brown also said Ontario should restrict inter-provincial travel, a recommendation Ford has taken up by closing provincial borders with Manitoba and Quebec.
Following Ford’s announcement, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association immediately warned the new police powers would lead to 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 mobility rights restrictions fail to achieve constitutional proportionality,” the statement reads.
Lawyers and anti-racism advocates also said the measure would result in police targeting racialized Ontarians. Meanwhile, opposition politicians criticized the added police powers and called on Ford to reverse the decision.
“Today, on the 39th anniversary of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I demand that Doug Ford reverse his unconscionable decision to inappropriately enlist Ontario’s police services to do his dirty work,” Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said on Saturday. “This is an egregious misuse of his authority and it cannot be allowed to stand.”
“Has Jones considered how RACIAL PROFILING may play into this? BIPOC folks more likely to be ‘on the streets’ heading to work,”, Jill Andrew, NDP MPP for Toronto-St. Paul’s, tweeted on Friday.
“Enhanced policing powers all too often disproportionately affect people of colour and those in the most vulnerable situations,” said Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner on Twitter. “We need to enforce public health rules, but we also need #PaidSickDays, safe workplaces and vaccines for the most vulnerable.”
Data has shown Black people are disproportionately arrested, charged and subject to use of force by Toronto police.
In 2017, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch released a review of the province’s regulation on street checks and carding and found the social costs of the practice far outweighed benefits to policing. The report recommended ending carding, noting it has hurt public trust in police.
A provincial rule banning police from doing street checks in specific situations and “arbitrarily” collecting information took effect in the same year.
However, some have said the law does not go far enough to end racial profiling.
In response to an April 16 Toronto Police tweet linking to the regulation, Andrew said: “Can you unpack ‘arbitrary’ b/c carding and racial profiling have never been banned by @fordnation or the previous Liberal govt at that. Racial profiling and carding is still legal in Ontario. How can one ‘know their rights’ within this context?”