Stay-at-home order enforcement could lead to more police in racialized areas, advocates worry

Ontario’s new stay-at-home order could mean more police in some communities than residents are used to seeing, and activists are raising concerns about how that extra enforcement might affect low-income, racialized neighbourhoods.

Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative physician and health justice activist, said Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities in low income neighbourhoods are more at risk of catching COVID-19 and also more at risk of being targeted and harassed by the police.

“Public health experts, epidemiologists, infectious disease physicians have spoken. We need a lockdown. And we need a state of emergency that is reflective of these stay-at-home orders,” he said on Wednesday.

“As we go into the next phase of the pandemic, however, we must be cautious about what this means. This means more police and more enforcement in our communities than we are really used to during this pandemic,” he added. 

“We must especially be cautious of low income, racialized communities where a lot of our essential workers live who have a long and tumultuous history with being overpoliced.” 

Dosani said Ontario cannot police its way back to public health and out of the pandemic.

Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative physician and health justice activist, says Black Indigenous, and other racialized communities are more at risk of catching COVID-19 and also more at risk of being targeted and harassed by the police. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Cara Zwibel, a lawyer and director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the association is concerned about the possibility of overzealous ticketing.

“I would hope that even with a stay-at-home order that police don’t have licence to randomly stop people and ask them where they are going and what they are doing,” she said. 

There are a lot of reasons why people might be out of their homes, she said.

“It’s a scary idea that we would have to sort of produce papers to be out walking around in our province. And I think that’s not the direction we should be going in,” Zwibel said.

Exemption for unhoused an ‘unexpected relief’

According to the Ontario government, the regulation outlining what is allowed under the order that takes effect on Thursday does not apply to people experiencing homelessness.

Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor at Sanctuaries Ministries of Toronto, said it is good news that unhoused people are exempt.

“It is a welcome and unexpected relief that the stay-at-home order explicitly does not apply to people without homes in Ontario. I am very cautiously hopeful that law enforcement will not find any way around this clear directive to put upon any further some of our most beleaguered community members,” Hatlem said.

People line up at a dollar store in downtown Toronto on Wednesday hours before the start of the state of emergency, which includes a stay-at-home order. The measures, which will be in place until Feb. 11, are meant to curb a steady rise in COVID-19 cases. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Ontario government said it will empower all provincial offences officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors to issue tickets to people who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order.

That also applies to those not wearing masks or face coverings in indoor public places, as well as retail stores and companies that do not enforce requirements under provincial law.

Toronto police said in a statement: “We can confirm we will be taking direction from the province, like other services in Ontario, and will continue to carry out enforcement in partnership with the city.”

Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah told CBC’s Power & Politics that police expect mainly to respond to complaints.

In a regulation released on Wednesday night, the Ontario government outlined which activities are allowed under its newly issued stay-at-home order that takes effect on Thursday.

WATCH | Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah speaks about enforcement of the new stay-at-home order:

Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah says he expects his officers will largely respond to complaints from residents. 6:04

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