Toronto Police Mounted Unit officers patrol a city park in Toronto on Thursday, April 16, 2020. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says it’s going to seek amnesty for all tickets issued for municipal recreational infractions during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Civil Liberties group seeks amnesty for recreational tickets issued during pandemic

The association has received at least 100 public complaints over the past 10 days

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says it’s going to fight for citizens nabbed for municipal recreational infractions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will be calling for an amnesty on all these tickets and that all the fines be forgiven afterwards, because of the unconstitutional mess that many municipal governments have put us into,” said executive director Michael Bryant.

The association has received at least 100 public complaints over the past 10 days from those who have been ticketed by bylaw or police officers for defying emergency management offences such as jogging on golf courses or exercising in parks.

Bryant said the restrictions designed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus are an abuse of power because the recreation activities involved are usually harmless and should be met with warnings rather than costly fines.

The former Ontario attorney general said political pressure on police and bylaw officers to ticket people is unconstitutional.

“We don’t live in a police state. Politicians should never be giving direction to police or bylaw officers,” he said in an interview.

“We’ve had more charges laid during COVID than took place during the October crisis in 1970 when there was an actual threat to public order. COVID is not a threat to public order, it’s a threat to public health.”

READ MORE: Is COVID-19 baby boom a myth? How relationships might be tested during the pandemic

Bryant said the association is looking for the right case to mount a challenge, but expects a Canadian lawyer will take up the cause.

Dylan Finlay may just do that.

The Toronto criminal defence lawyer said he’s considering whether to launch his own constitutional challenge after he was fined $880 for doing chin-ups in a city park. Or he may assist those who have approached him for help.

He argues that the laws contravene Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by infringing on life, liberty and personal security.

Finlay said they go overboard by prohibiting the use of soccer fields or baseball diamonds even for an immediate family that isn’t coming into close contact with anyone else. It also doesn’t take into account families that are cooped up in condos or apartments with no access to a yard.

“I wish the government would treat people like adults,” he said, adding that education has worked to encourage people to physically distance to stop the spread of the virus.

He said society can’t and shouldn’t police its way out of a pandemic.

“The world’s a different place and it’s not because of strict laws with heavy-handed sort of police enforcement. It’s because people are voluntarily deciding to agree with the government.”

READ MORE: B.C. police can now issue $2,000 tickets for reselling medical supplies, price gouging

General deterrence exists in the law, but issuing a fine of more than $800 to a person receiving $2,000 a month in emergency federal government assistance is overly punitive, Finlay said.

Finlay acknowledges that COVID-19 is a health emergency and supports physical distancing.

“I’m sympathetic with what the government’s trying to do, I just think that these restrictions as far as they go to parks, they go too far.”

Bryant said Winnipeg and British Columbia are models for taking the right approach to preventing the spread of the virus.

Instead of handing out fines, bylaw officers inform and warn the public. And compliance is strong.

“And that’s in Winnipeg, which is notoriously over-policed and where there’s a high per capita crime rate.”

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusOutdoors and Recreationparks

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Search continues for wolf, senior citizen being transferred to Vancouver

Frank Russ shows where the unprovoked wolf attacked his father

Sunken Gardens bloom from deeply seeded efforts

Garden club members are rooted in dedication

COVID-19 highlights lack of connectivity in First Nations communities

Many don’t have access required to utilize online platforms, says First Nations Technology Council

VIDEO: Injured bald eagle rescued in B.C. First Nations community

Bird suspected injured in fight, whisked off to Coquitlam rehab

Toronto Raptors’ Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided

Thousands have protested Floyd’s death and repeated police killings of black men across the United States

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Most Read