During the declared emergency, the scope of police powers are now significantly broader, says Michelle Johal
Police and provincial offences officers are now responsible for responding to calls related to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act — the “Act” — invoked by the Province of Ontario and as well as ensuring the public’s general compliance with it.
An emergency was declared by an Order in Council (Ontario Regulation 50/20) on March 17, pursuant to section 7.0.1 of the Act. It was recognized that the outbreak of a communicable disease, namely COVID-19, constituted a “danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons.”
The initial period of the declared emergency was for 14 days, but has since been extended in the Ontario legislature and is currently set to last until May 12.
There have been a number of orders made under the Act, which cover things like price gouging on hand sanitizer or the pick up and delivery of cannabis (if you are a holder of an authorization) during the declared emergency.
The emergency declaration has also called for a number of measures including:
• Closure of establishments; for example, all bars and restaurants, except to the extent such facilities provide takeout food and delivery (O. Reg 51/20)
• The mandatory closure of non-essential workplaces (O. Reg. 82/20)
• Closure of outdoor recreational amenities, which includes outdoor playgrounds and outdoor sports facilities (O.Reg.104/20)
• Strict restrictions on the size of organized public events, social gatherings, and conducting religious services, rites and ceremonies, being limited to five persons — except for members of single household — and funeral services to not more than 10 people (O.Reg. 52/20)
There are penalties in place for breaching the orders. Keep in mind that there are also provisions for the enforcement of these orders.
For example, officers may require an individual to provide their correct name, date of birth and address if they believe that a person has committed an offence (O. Reg. 114/20).
Failing to comply with any of the emergency orders is an offence under the Act, but so is the failure to identify oneself accurately.
For example, failing to correctly identify oneself carries a fine of $750 for failure to comply with an order made under the Act or $1,000 for obstructing any person in exercising a power if a provincial offences officer issues a ticket.
This is a significant departure from the law prior to the declared emergency. In my criminal practice, I am often asked by my clients whether they are required to identify themselves to police upon request. My standard answer to that question was, “well that depends.”
If police stop you while you are driving or cycling, you do have to show the police identification. This is required by the Highway Traffic Act and municipal bylaws. But in many cases, if the police simply stop you on the street, I tell my clients that you don’t have to show the police your identification or answer their questions.
An important caveat is that during the declared emergency, the scope of police powers are now significantly broader. If police or provincial offences officers have grounds to believe that you are breaching the Act, you should hand over your identification.
Finally, there is one last question I wish to address. Are the police stopping cars with two or more occupants and issuing tickets under the Act?
There have been rumours swirling on social media recently that police forces in the GTA are issuing tickets under the Act when there are two or more people in a car if they do not live at the same address.
In fact, this rumour became so pervasive that Peel, Durham and York Regional Police have taken to social media to confirm that officers have not been directed to ticket vehicle occupants when there are two or more people in a car. Peel Police, however, did recommend limiting the number of people in any car to family, to limit the spread of the virus.
Be well and stay safe.