Ottawa police not conducting random stops under new Ontario powers to enforce stay-at-home order

OTTAWA — Following new enforcement measures announced by the province on Friday, the Ottawa Police Service says officers will not randomly stop people to ask them why they are outside their home.

In a statement Friday night, OPS wrote, “We will be taking a deliberate and careful approach that emphasizes equity, legality, and efficacy in the application of these authorities with the specific and exclusive purpose to support public health measures.”

The Ontario government announced Friday it was giving police temporary powers to enforce the provincial stay-at-home order, including allowing them to stop pedestrians and drivers and ask them why they’re outside and where they live. The new powers are in effect as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to the Ottawa Police Service, other police services said Friday that they will not be randomly stopping people, including Waterloo Regional Police, Peterborough Police, Guelph Police, and London Police.

The Ontario Provincial Police, whose jurisdiction includes provincial highways and municipalities without their own police services, is urging residents to comply with the stay-at-home order. 

“Although voluntary compliance is always preferred, under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA), Re-Opening Ontario Act (ROA) and federal Quarantine Act, there are consequences for individuals who choose to defy the emergency orders that are in force,” the OPP said in a release. “The public is reminded that individuals who fail to comply with the restrictions can be issued a minimum fine of $750. Those who obstruct an authority or individual from enforcing or complying with an order can receive a minimum fine of $1,000, and those who host parties or gatherings in violation of the regulations can face a maximum fine of $10,000 on conviction.”

The OPP said it would be announcing details about charges laid on its social media accounts. 

Essential reasons for traveling outside the home include going to work, child care or school, getting necessities such as groceries or medicine, exercise, or attending medical appointments, including getting COVID-19 testing or getting a vaccine.

In Friday’s statement, Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly acknowledged concerns that the measures could potentially target vulnerable and racialized members of the population.

“We are carefully reviewing these new authorities. We are very mindful of the perceptions of the broader public as well as within our more marginalized, racialized and/or Indigenous/Aboriginal/Inuit peoples,” Sloly said. “The OPS will continue to use a combination of education, engagement and enforcement. We do not want these powers to impact public trust. The public’s compliance with the Stay-at-Home order along with their collective effort to be healthy is our biggest strength and our best chance to manage this public health emergency.”

Sloly told reporters at a Friday afternoon press conference that maintaing public trust is a priority.

“The need to maintain public trust in a public health or public safety crisis is critical,” he said. “Without the actual consent and cooperation of the public, this is not going to work. No matter what we do from a health standpoint or a safety standpoint; whatever we do from an education, engagement or enforcement standpoint, if we can’t get people to trust in the institutions, the information they’re hearing around the risks associated with the health crisis, then their compliance or non-compliance is moot. 

“Whatever the regulations are, we’re going to try to apply them in the most ethical, legal, and effective way possible.”

Sloly said Friday afternoon he was awaiting further details about changes to the law, including how the the new powers align with street check regulations, human rights legislation, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“We are very aware of the issue of public trust and confidence,” said Sloly. “We are very aware of the level of trust and confidence, specifically with our local racialized and Indigenous and aboriginal, Inuit communities, and we’ll do our very best to understand, explain and apply those laws ethically, effectively, legally, of course, and in a way that is as transparent and consistent as possible, with a goal of improving health incomes for every member of the community.”

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