Challenges for Police During Pandemic Resulting in Assault Charges Across Canada

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

In this unpredictable and stressful environment that we are currently living in as we deal with COVID-19, our country’s first responders are facing unexpected challenges every day. 

Canada’s police officers are experiencing an increasing number of COVID-19 threats daily as they respond to calls from the public.  Across the country, charges of assault are being laid on individuals who are intentionally coughing or spitting on police officers.

Assault charges are considered a serious violation in Canada and are classified as a criminal act.  Charges of this nature will be tried in court, and if convicted the individual will be left with a criminal record. 

In Canada, a simple definition of assault is the intention to apply force to another individual in a direct or indirect manner, without that individual’s consent.  Only the threat of an assault is required for an assault charge to be laid, an actual injury does not have to occur.  It is essential that the individual being charged had both a direct intent to inflict harm and that there was no consent given by the individual being harmed.

Given the heightened concern of bodily fluids spreading the virus, the act of intentionally coughing or spitting on another individual with the intent to transmit a disease is certainly a factor the courts will look at, even if the victim of the crime does not become sick. 

CRIMINAL CHARGES LAID IN COUGHING AND SPITTING INCIDENTS

On April 2, 2020, police attended a home in Lethbridge, Alberta following a report of domestic assault.  A 27-year-old man was found to be in breach of the conditions of his release order.  While he was being taken into custody he coughed directly into the officer’s face.  He told officers that he had been exposed to a person with COVID-19 and hoped that the officers would get infected.  As a result of this deliberate incident, the man was charged with assault on a peace officer.

A similar incident occurred three days later in Wetaskiwin, Alberta when a man allegedly intentionally coughed on a police officer when he was arrested for breaching his court-ordered conditions.  He told police he had the virus and coughed in the officer’s face when being led to the police car and in another officer’s face when being processed.

On April 6, 2020, in Coquitlam, British Columbia, a man was charged with assault after allegedly spitting on police officers following his arrest for break-and-enter.  Prior to spitting, he had answered yes when questioned as to whether he was sick.

Similarly, in Kelowna, B.C., a man is facing a charge of aggravated assault after he allegedly spit on a police officer while he was being arrested for breaking and entering an empty home. 

Assault charges are also being laid against Canadians who are deliberately coughing on individuals who are not first responders.  On April 5, 2020, a man claiming to have tested positive for COVID-19 was charged with assault after coughing on a bus driver and transit officers who were called in to break up the altercation.

Two New Brunswick men, who had recently travelled to the Dominican Republic, have also been charged with assault after allegedly coughing on neighbours in a rooming house.  The neighbours had complained that the two men were not properly isolating themselves after they returned from vacation.  The two men  reacted to these complaints by coughing on their neighbours.

CHARGES OF MISCHIEF LAID IN ALBERTA RELATED TO COVID-19

An individual from Taber, Alberta has been charged with mischief after allegedly licking products in a store as part of a social-media prank.  According to police, a witness saw a group of four individuals enter the store and attempt to lick items with their tongue.  The witness reported the incident to store management.  The suspects were identified through a licence plate number and a 20-year-old was charged with mischief under $5,000.  The man was allegedly participating in the “COVID Challenge” on TikTok.  The store had to remove items from their shelves and sanitize the area as a result of this incident.

The criminal offence of mischief covers a broad range of conduct and typically applies in circumstances where a person obstructs, interrupts or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property. 

Chief Graham Abela of the Taber Police stated:

Taber police consider this type of activity a serious breach of good citizenship and conduct that is required during this time of crisis.  Reliable and clean food supply is one of our greatest needs at this time.  To waste cleaning supplies and food from our shelves during this pandemic is unacceptable.  We will investigate and where necessary lay charges to the fullest extent of the law to help curb this type of prank.

As the province of Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, we will continue to follow the developments and update any changes in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with an assault or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact our office online or at 905-404-1947.   Our business remains open and we are operating at full capacity.  The law firm of Affleck & Barrison LLP is committed to the health and safety of our community and is operating under the suggested social distancing guidelines recommended by the Canadian government and health professionals.

Our skilled criminal defence lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.