Group of active, retired police officers file constitutional challenge over Ontario’s COVID-19 rules

TORONTO — A group of active and retired police officers from several forces has launched a legal challenge over Ontario’s COVID-19 pandemic orders, alleging that enforcing the rules requires officers to breach their oath to uphold the constitution.

Notice of the constitutional challenge was filed late last month on behalf of 19 officers, including two Toronto officers currently facing an internal police investigation for allegedly breaching restrictions on social gatherings.

The civil action targets Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Ontario’s attorney general, five police chiefs as well as federal officials.

READ MORE: 2 Toronto police officers charged after attending large church gathering in Aylmer, Ont.

The claim, which has not been tested in court, seeks a number of declarations, including that religious services and protests are exempt from rules on gatherings, and that lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are a form of martial law, which the province does not have jurisdiction to enact.

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It also wants the court to declare that restrictions on interprovincial travel violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and thus compel officers to breach their oath.

The action also seeks an order that police supervisors, politicians and public health officials stop interfering with officers’ discretion in applying and enforcing the law.

Read more: Toronto police launching dedicated COVID-19 teams in each division to target large gatherings

Rocco Galati, the lawyer representing the group, said he believes the action is the first of its kind in Canada.

“To my knowledge this is the first time that police officers… have actually gone to court against the legislative and executive branch of the government, saying that the laws … that they are being asked and are under a duty to enforce in fact violate not only their oath, and their duty, and their office, but the constitution,” he said in a recent news conference.

Galati said the officers — 15 of them active and four retired — want the court to clarify their role in applying the rules, which he argues are “too vague and broad and aren’t clear enough to enforce uniformly and fairly.”

Read more: Ontario police forces to focus on education rather than enforcement of new powers

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He alleged officers who speak out against the rules are “ostracized.”

York Regional Police Const. Christopher Vandenbos, who is one of the plaintiffs, said the obligation to enforce the rules has created a rift in police ranks.

“The divide that we’re seeing is very visible,” he said during the news conference.

Read more: Many Ontario police forces won’t use new COVID-19 powers to conduct random stops

Last month, the Toronto Police Service said it was investigating after a video posted online appeared to show two of its off-duty officers violating Ontario’s stay-at-home order.

The video relates to a public gathering at a church in Aylmer, Ont., and shows a confrontation between some in attendance and local police.

Aylmer’s police chief later confirmed two Toronto off-duty officers were charged under the Reopening Ontario Act in connection with the incident.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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