TORONTO — As the Ontario government walks back their latest measures that gave police the power to stop residents at random, officers can still ticket those they believe are participating in public events or gatherings, which advocates say pose a serious safety concern for people of colour.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the new measures on Friday, but revised them the next day following public backlash.
Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said on Saturday that officers will no longer have the right to randomly stop any pedestrian or vehicle to ask why they are out or request their home address.
Instead she said, police will only be able to stop people who they have reason to believe are participating in an “organized public event or social gathering” at the discretion of the officer.
Although police no longer have the power to ask anyone where they live and why they are not at home, advocates say the measures are still worrisome.
Those who do not comply will be issued a ticket in accordance with the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. Penalties for non-compliance are set at a minimum of $750, according to Jones.
Ontarians took to social media after the measures were announced to express their concerns with the police powers, fearing it may intensify racial profiling in the province and exacerbate the COVID-19 crisis for those who are already disproportionately affected by the virus.
Activists have attacked the Ford government over the enhanced restrictions and stated that it is not only an infringement on human rights, but is also unconstitutional.
Toronto-based journalist and author Desmond Cole criticized the enhanced powers given to police on Twitter, paralleling them to carding.
“If you’ve ever been carded, your info remains in their databases. Other cops across the country can access your information. Fraudsters like @johntory simply declared carding to be over and moved on. We’re not experiencing a return of carding, it’s a continuation,” he tweeted on Saturday.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) says they are planning to bring the Ontario government to court and challenge the regulation. The group announced on Saturday that it has sought legal counsel to launch the challenge and argue that the new police powers violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We are bringing a challenge as quickly as possible, in order to restore peoples’ freedom from arbitrary police stops,” CCLA Executive Director Michael Bryant said in a statement.
The group also says that the enhanced police powers are overreaching and misguided.
“The regulation brings back the odious ‘driving while black’ police stop, and introduces a ‘walking while black’ offence. This is formalized, legalized carding, and that’s unconstitutional,” the statement reads.
Bryant told CTV News Channel on Friday that the enhanced powers presume guilt, rather than innocence.
“Racialized minorities, Indigenous, Black people, people of colour will be stopped and will be during this time, living in fear,” Bryant said.
“We believe the government has gone way off side on the constitution on that front,” he added.
Politicians have also criticized the enhanced police powers and called on the premier to reverse them entirely.
“Today, on the 39th anniversary of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I demand that Doug Ford reverse his unconscionable decision to inappropriately enlist Ontario’s police services to do his dirty work,” Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said in a statement on Saturday.
“This is an egregious misuse of his authority and it cannot be allowed to stand,” he added.
Toronto NDP MPP Jill Andrew also took to Twitter, calling out the province’s solicitor general on the measures.
“Has Jones considered how RACIAL PROFILING may play into this? BIPOC folks more likely to be ‘on the streets’ heading to work,” Andrew tweeted on Friday.
Despite the newest measures, police departments across the province have indicated that they do not intend to make use of the new powers.
Toronto Police, Peel Regional Police, Hamilton Police and Ottawa Polie Service are among more than 30 police forces that have rejected the measures.
“The Toronto Police Service will continue to engage, educate and enforce, but we will not be doing random stops of people or cars,” the service said on Twitter.
Philip Semple, a former Toronto police officer and the co-ordinator of Centennial College’s Police Foundations program, told CTV News Channel on Saturday that the measures are problematic because there may be differing views among police and provincial officials on enforcement.
“I can understand why they’re suggesting the things that they’ve suggested. But when they make orders like this and then expect the police to enforce them, there can be a bit of a disconnect. I’m wondering how much consultation actually took place between them and the police services before the order came out,” Semple said.
In terms of what to do if you find yourself in a situation with police, Bryant said there aren’t many options.
“The truth is, sadly, most Indigenous, Black people and people of colour know exactly what to do. Just answer the questions because no matter what your rights are, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re in a confrontation with a police officer,” said Bryant.
Black Ontarians can contact BLAC if they experience issues with the police or are in need of legal services during Ontario’s stay-at-home order.
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