This blog is co-written by our former articling student, Janet Son.
There is a growing list of Orders-in-Council being made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (“EMCPA”), which provides the Ontario government with sweeping powers to put measures in place to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, there is a growing concern about excessive ticketing and fining by police and by-law officers. Many seemingly benign activities such as doing a chin up at a soccer net in an empty field, a family rollerblading together or walking your dog through the park have resulted in hefty fines for individuals.
During a time of financial strain, these tickets are ranging from $750 to a summons, which upon conviction could result in a $100,000 fine for individuals and $10 million for businesses. Since April 24, 2020 the Toronto Police has issued 185 tickets and 16 summons.
A regulation under the EMCPA ordered the closure of outdoor recreational amenities including all playgrounds, play structures, equipment, sports facilities, multi-use fields, off-leash dog areas, portions of park and recreational areas containing fitness equipment, allotment gardens, community gardens, picnic sites, benches and shelters in park and recreational areas. This list also includes outdoor recreational amenities whether or not they are publicly or privately owned.
However, individuals are allowed to walk through or use portions of the park and recreational areas that are otherwise not closed or do not contain an outdoor recreational amenity. These over-broad prohibitions have led to individuals worrying about receiving a ticket for sitting on a park bench for too long. Toronto Police has clarified that enforcement officers should be considerate of those who need park benches as “temporary respite” or for those experiencing homelessness.
Furthermore, another regulation under the EMCPA requires an individual to identify themselves to police if they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an individual has committed an offence under the EMCPA.
Toronto Police stated that they are working with the City of Toronto on education and enforcement initiatives that would support public health efforts. However, a constitutional challenge may be mounted about the legality of this type of ticketing. Though we are living through a public health crisis, police measures still need to be proportionate and not arbitrary.
“This article is intended to inform. Its content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon by readers as such. If you require legal assistance, please see a lawyer. Each case is unique and a lawyer with good training and sound judgment can provide you with advice tailored to your specific situation and needs.”