Ford government revises new police pandemic powers after pushback
Published Saturday, April 17, 2021 9:56AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 17, 2021 6:44PM EDT
The Ontario government has revised the new police powers that initially let officers make random stops to enforce the stay-at-home order. Now, the province said police may stop individuals only if they are suspected of participating in an organized event or social gathering.
The government announced the changes Saturday evening.
"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," a statement from the office of the Solicitor General reads.
"Every individual who is required to provide a police officer or other provincial offences officer with information shall promptly comply."
The statement says that the government's priority is to address and discourage gatherings and crowds that violate the stay-at-home order.
"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 statement reads.
Ontario introduced sweeping new restrictions Friday in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the province's third wave. One of those measures includes more power for police where officers can legally stop individuals on the street and in vehicles and question their reasons for leaving their homes.
However, a majority of police services in the province said they do not intend to randomly stop people or vehicles.
In a tweet published Saturday morning, Toronto police said they would opt out of the new enforcement. Instead, they say they will "continue to engage and enforce equitably and effectively, recognizing always that we must inspire public trust."
Interim Toronto police Chief James Ramer doubled down on the decision in a separate tweet saying, "Our officers will not be doing random stops of people or cars."
In a news release issued Saturday, Peel Regional Police announced they too would not be conducting random stops. Chief Nishan Duraiappah said he recognizes the "concern" the measure brings to the community and assured residents that the force would not be conducting vehicle or individual stops.
Other police services across the province, including those in York and Durham regions, Ottawa and northern Ontario also refused to do random stops.
Speaking to CP24 Saturday afternoon, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called the policy a "misuse of police resources."
Public health experts have also questioned the measure and civil liberties advocates are warning that the move could lead to a rash of racial profiling.
Before the Ford government announced the changes, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said they were planning to go to court to challenge the regulation.
In an updated statement, executive director Michael Bryant said they will put the challenge "on pause" as the revised order "restores an investigative detention standard for police stops."
"The new order rationalizes and narrows the unconstitutional Friday standard. The new standard is also tied to a public health objective, and avoids arbitrary detention," Bryant said.
"It means people should return to being as free as they were before this happened. That may be a freedom wrongly curbed by racial profiling, police bias and discrimination, against which we will continue to fight."
Other measures announced Friday include more restrictions on outdoor gatherings and non-essential construction projects.
The province also extended its provincewide stay-at-home order by two weeks to curb the spread of infection.
Over the last two days, the province has logged record-breaking COVID-19 case counts largely driven by variants of the disease, according to public health officials.