Obi Ifedi of Ottawa was walking in a park with his daughter on April 4 when he was approached by a city officer. He says he was finally dumped and ended the evening with a bruised lip and fines totaling over $ 2,000.
Then there was Melissa Leblanc, from the Montreal suburb of Beaconsfield, who was greeted by the police at her door on April 5 after her family and friends wished her a happy birthday from their car.
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They are just a handful of the hundreds of Canadians who feel the impact of policies that governments have put in place since March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But criminology and legal experts reject conventional wisdom that giving the police the power to levy hefty fines will make people safer.
They argue that public health guidelines are unclear, and the way they are applied is counterproductive and distracted from the state’s failure to better prepare for COVID-19. In addition, they say, the heavy fines disproportionately affect people with limited means, people of color and marginalized communities.
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Ifedi, a stay-at-home father from Nigeria, said he and his daughter had left an Ottawa park after being ordered to do so. But he alleges that the agent followed them and continued to scold them as they returned home. Ifedi said he told the officer that there were no signs that the park was closed.
“He didn’t like me to answer,” said Ifedi in an interview on Tuesday. “Then he said,” You know what, I’m going to write you a ticket. Give me your name.’ “
Halifax lawyer David Fraser said police in his city have already been called in for racial profiling. A 2019 report commissioned by the provincial human rights commission found that black men in the Halifax area were nine times more likely to be arrested by police than the general population.
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Fraser, the author of Canadian Canadian Law Law, said there was no reason to believe that profiling had stopped during the pandemic. And he said the province’s public health orders are unclear, hasty, and could lead to excessive surveillance.
For example, he said on Sunday, Halifax regional police have denied rumors that their officers stopped all vehicles carrying two or more people to verify spurious trips. “While vehicle inspections can sometimes be part of our # COVID-19 enforcement efforts if necessary, ALL vehicles are not stopped,” police said on Twitter.
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Fraser said the message strongly suggests that the police sometimes stop cars, even though nothing in public health orders gives the police the additional power to stop vehicles or interrogate people.
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In response to a question about how provincial health directives give officers the right to stop vehicles, Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod said questions about the details of the order are a provincial responsibility.
“As always, in all situations, our officers must behave in an impartial and respectful manner,” he said Tuesday in an email.
Fraser also challenged a March 30 order from Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey that the police “will step up their public education efforts to enforce the law, in accordance with officers’ discretion.” “
If the police are informed that every time they find an offense, issue a ticket, Fraser said, “We know that the police are present in minority communities far more than in affluent communities.”
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Criminology researchers Alex Luscombe and Alexander McClelland are mapping the police response to the pandemic across Canada. Their project, “Police Against the Pandemic,” collects data from press articles, police press releases, and social media posts.
Between April 4 and 13, their research indicates that there were at least 735 violations of the Public Health Act and emergency violations, most of which occurred in Quebec (324), in New- Scotland (228) and Ontario (161).
Luscombe, a doctoral student at the Center for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto, said that ticketing disproportionately harms those who cannot comfortably isolate themselves or who have not been properly informed of the spread of COVID. 19.
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He said he was unaware of any criminological research indicating that ticketing was an effective means of deterring bad behavior.
“Just look at speed as an example where ticketing is used as the main form of social control by the police,” he said in a recent interview, “but we don’t necessarily see the end of speed, is not it? “
McClelland, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, is studying the criminalization of communicable diseases, especially HIV. He says it is still early days, but he expects this crisis to produce police models similar to those that emerged from the AIDS crisis.
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“Blacks and browns, and the poor and indigenous people are overrepresented in HIV-related criminal cases,” he said.
McClelland cautioned against a government approach on COVID-19 that chooses people for prison terms or fines.
“What it does is individualize our response,” he said in an interview. “It means we think we can designate a person and say, ‘This is the person to blame – put them aside. But what that means is that we are not asking broader questions about why our healthcare system has not deployed massive testing. “
Meanwhile, 41-year-old Yanofsky said he is disputing the heavy ticket he received on April 5. The park had signs, he said, indicating that the area was closed to limit the spread of COVID-19, “except to cross”.
“City law enforcement … uses an extremely limited sense of” crossing “,” he said.
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Ifedi, 39, said he had hired a lawyer and plans to contest his fine. He added that the municipal officer followed him, asked his name, and then called two police officers who were nearby.
Ifedi said he refused to give his name to the bylaw and police. He said he remembers being beaten and beaten in the face by the city official before the intervention of the two police officers.
Roger Chapman, director of by-laws and regulatory services for the City of Ottawa, said his ministry “denies any allegations of improper conduct and the characterization of the incident.”
“However, in light of the potential legal process, BLRS will not make any further comments. “
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Michael Bryant, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said he is working with Ifedi and is assessing whether the CCLA will intervene in the case, which he says “raises the possibility of racial profiling”.
Leblanc, whose birthday turned sour, said police told him that she had received a call from a neighbor and threatened her with a $ 1,500 fine and a prison sentence for a subsequent offense.
Finally she went out with a warning, but she worried about the working climate police. “I know they were stressed,” she said in a recent interview. “But don’t deprive me of it. “
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