As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Ontario and the world, following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the government of Ontario has declared a state of emergency and has responded with various out of the ordinary orders and restrictions for all citizens. This includes the closure of public gathering spaces, physical distancing requirements, travel restrictions and temporary closure orders.
In declaring an emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, this allowed the government to exercise far-reaching powers to respond to this unprecedented medical emergency.
On March 23, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford ordered all non-essential workplaces to temporarily close in an effort to battle the spread of the threatening virus. Essential businesses such as grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, gas stations, liquor stores, licensed cannabis stores and restaurants providing take out or delivery were all allowed to remain open. The list of non-essential workplaces to temporarily close was expanded effective April 4, 2020, including the closure of licensed cannabis stores.
Police and peace officers, including special constables and bylaw officers, have been granted the power to impose fines for violating an order issued under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act ranging from $750 to $100,000 to individuals and a term of imprisonment up to one year. If the individual is a director or officer of a corporation, they could be subject to a fine up to $500,000 and a term of imprisonment up to one year. The corporation itself could be fined up to $10,000,000. These fines can be imposed for each day the offence was committed. Furthermore, an individual or corporation can be fined an amount equal to the financial benefit that was acquired while the business continued to operate contrary to the issued order.
Premier Ford emphasized how serious this health crisis is by stating:
We are facing a critical moment in the fight against COVID-19 and we must do everything in our power to keep everyone safe and healthy and prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed. Everyone must do their part to stop the spread and flatten the curve. If you are not an essential business, you need to close your doors, work from home if possible and play a role to help contain the outbreak. This is a matter of life and death.
DRUG DEALER FINED FOR OPERATING A NON-ESSENTIAL BUSINESS
On March 27, 2020, investigators observed a man driving a black Jeep Grand Cherokee and making several stops to conduct drug transactions in the area of Main Street West and Norfolk Street South in Hamilton.
Police found cocaine divided in small plastic bags valued at $3,400 and almost $6,000 in cash. In addition to criminal charges of possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking and possession of proceeds of crime, the 29-year-old accused was also issued a provincial offence ticket for operating a non-essential business under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
This incident follows another case that also occurred in Hamilton. On March 19, 2020, Hamilton police attended Shisha Kaif Café, a hookah lounge, after complaints were made that business was operating as usual. Police found that the lounge was operating in violation of the emergency shutdown order. The owner was issued a summons to appear in court and was given a $750 fine.
STAY OFF ALL PLAYGROUNDS
Emergency measures in place throughout Ontario include the closure of all outdoor recreational facilities, including playgrounds, skate parks, off-leash parks, sports fields and tennis courts. Most of these outdoor public areas have signs posted and caution tape around them, where possible, to keep individuals away from these closed off areas.
The Ontario government also took action to protect Ontarians by placing a limit on social gatherings to no more than five people, effective immediately. This order does not apply to private households with five people or more, those operating child care centres for frontline health care workers and first responders, or funerals which may proceed with up to ten people.
As of March 27, 2020, police officers and municipal bylaw officers can issue a ticket for non-compliance with an official order. The fine for disobeying the rules start at $750 per occurrence, per person. You can also be charged multiple days in a row.
In a statement by Matt Gaskell, Whitby chief administrative officer:
We are continuing to see residents who are ignoring the need for physical distancing and using our playgrounds, sports fields and outdoor amenities. Our message to residents is clear: these amenities are closed and anyone using them is not only putting their health at risk but the lives of others in our community. Our bylaw officers are working closely with the Durham Regional Police Service to fine those who are not getting this important message.
Durham police have reported that they have received more than 200 complaints from citizens in relation to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The complaints were originally regarding non-essential business that were not closed, but they are now receiving more complaints regarding social gathering, especially as the weather warms up. Those that want to report someone or groups using outdoor recreation areas can contact the Durham Regional Police at www.drps.ca or call the DRPS Intelligence Branch Hotline at 1-888-579-1529, extension 5802.
As our government continues to respond to COVID-19, we will continue to provide updates on these developments in this blog.
In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, it is recommended that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer. The lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP have many years of experience defending a wide variety of criminal offences. Contact our office today online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.