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REALITY CHECK: Police say they aren’t pulling over cars for coronavirus fines

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Several major Canadian police forces say social media rumours that they are pulling over drivers under new coronavirus emergency powers are simply not true, with one blasting the claims as “all fake news.”

Over the past several days, there have been reports on platforms like WhatsApp and Twitter of police around the Greater Toronto Area pulling over vehicles and then laying fines of between $750 and $1,000 if the passengers inside are not all from the same household or conducting essential business.

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The claim is that this is being done under the new emergency powers in place in the province.

It is true that those new powers do give police and bylaw officers the authority to lay fines of either $750 or $1,000 for gatherings of more than five people and businesses defying the shutdown orders.

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But police services across the region say the claims they are extending those powers to pull over vehicles are false, and that the enforcement powers don’t actually give them that authority.

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“No, that is all fake news,” said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt with the Ontario Provincial Police’s Highway Safety Division.

Global News also reached out to police departments across the Greater Toronto Area, who all said they are not using any of the enforcement powers that have been granted to them to pull over or fine drivers.

“The Toronto Police Service does not conduct that type of enforcement,” said Toronto Police Services spokesperson Connie Osborne.

“In fact, at this time, no additional powers have been bestowed on police to expand enforcement efforts beyond organized public events or social gatherings of over five people.”

Toronto police did note that as of March 31, nine people have received $750-tickets but that those were for “non-compliance with the directives related to park amenities and/or social gatherings of more than five people.”

According to the force, the places they have the authority to fine people over social gatherings include things like dog parks, performance venues, parking lots, picnic areas and sports fields.

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Sgt. Andy Pattenden with York Regional Police offered a similar response when asked if the force was pulling over vehicles and fining those inside who are not from the same household.

“We are not. This is a rumour that has been swirling around on social media for days,” he said. “There have been many police services across the GTA who have been advising this is not true.”

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Halton Regional Police’s Cst. Steve Elms said he’s not aware of any such ticket being issued in the region.

He said the force has seen recent social media posts that he called “blatantly incorrect and spreading false information,” and urged caution.

Elms also pointed to a tweet put out by the police force on Monday advising the public that the claims being made on social media are fake.

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“The HRPS [Halton Regional Police Service] is aware of social media posts warning residents that our officers are stopping cars and asking where they are going. This is not accurate,” that tweet reads.

Global News also reached out to police in Ottawa and Vancouver, which both said enforcement of any social distancing measures falls into the hands of bylaw officers, not police officers.

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As a reminder, Ontario last week banned gatherings of more than five people.

There are some exceptions to that: funerals can have up to 10 people, while child care centres supporting front-line health care workers and first responders can have up to 50 people.

But all residents are being told not to leave their homes except for essential business, such as picking up prescription medications or buying groceries, or getting exercise.

Anyone who does leave their home needs to practise physical distancing — that means staying at least two metres away from anyone else and avoiding touching public surfaces whenever possible.

Anyone who has returned from foreign travel since March 25 is legally required under the Quarantine Act to not leave their homes for any reason, even carrying out essential business or getting exercise.

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