Canadians were handed roughly $13 million in fines related to COVID-19 offences in what a new report from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association called “an ugly ticketing pandemic” with rampant racial profiling by enforcement officers.
In the report released Wednesday entitled “Stay off the Grass: COVID-19 and Law Enforcement in Canada,” the civil rights watchdog found that 10,000 tickets were issued between April 1 and June 15, with the vast majority being handed out in just three provinces: Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Quebec, which saw the highest number of new coronavirus deaths and infections, saw 6,600 COVID-19-related charges, or nearly 77 per cent of all fines.
Ontario, which was the second hardest hit by the virus, saw 2,853 charges, followed by Nova Scotia with just over 550 charges and Alberta with 129 fines, according to the CCLA.
The report found the fines for violating the public safety orders are significant and have disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, including Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups and those with precarious housing, among others.
Fines can range anywhere from more than $800 in Ontario to more than $1,500 in Quebec, according to the review. Most tickets in Nova Scotia are roughly $700, while Saskatchewan has handed out tickets to the tune of $2,000.
“We received multiple reports of bylaw officers being needlessly aggressive with Black individuals walking through parks,” said Abby Deshman, director of the criminal justice program for CCLA, in a statement. “Members of the LGBTQ+ community also reported that they felt targeted by law enforcement.”
Academics, criminologists and human rights organizations who spoke with Global News in April sounded the alarm over the impact on people’s rights and freedoms while questioning whether fines actually serve as a deterrent.
More than 100,000 Canadians have been sickened by COVID-19 and more than 8,400 have died from the virus, which forced governments at all levels to take extraordinary steps to stop the spread of infection.
The CCLA said it heard from students, seniors on fixed incomes, single parents and those who were unemployed who described the fines as “crushing,” often equal to an entire month’s rent or grocery budget.
“Unfortunately, we may never have quantitative data regarding discriminatory patterns of COVID-19 enforcement in Canada,” the report says. “Many police forces across Canada do not collect demographic data, such as race, gender or socioeconomic status, of their enforcement patterns.”
Alex Luscombe of the University of Toronto, who is a co-founder of the Policing the Pandemic mapping project, said that some provinces in Canada focused on education and not enforcement.
“Many provinces very effectively ‘flattened the curve’ of the pandemic by relying on public health recommendations and education,” he said. “Other provinces, however, turned to punitive enforcement to secure compliance.”
Residents in Manitoba and British Columbia saw just 50 pandemic-related charges, while the rest of the provinces have fewer than five total individuals facing fines or charges related to COVID-19, according to the study. Researchers used news reports, press releases and social media from police and government statements to compile the data.
The CCLA released an earlier report on Friday that highlighted allegations of racist behaviour by law enforcement during the pandemic and alleged Canada is facing the greatest threat to civil liberties since the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec.
“In Ottawa, an internal review has been launched into the case of a Black man who was punched by a bylaw officer. And in Toronto two Black women reported that a bylaw officer stopped them, but not other white users of the park, and said they were ‘trespassing’ and that if they were at his home he could ‘shoot’ them,” the CCLA said.
“In mid-May, in Saskatchewan, the RCMP interrupted a sun dance ceremony of the Okemasis Cree First Nation despite the fact that the organizers said they limited the number of people at the event and practised physical distancing.”
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