We all know we’re to “stay the blazes home.”
It was Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil who turned that phrase into a viral sensation when he urged people to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting travel should only be taken for essential measures.
Still, some Nova Scotians are confused around the rules when it comes to travelling outside the home.
Tim Cleveland, a chef who walks to work daily, found himself with a ticket in his hand after police stopped him in the Halifax Common for failing to comply with directions under the province’s emergency management act.
Cleveland said he was walking along the path on Thursday afternoon near the skatepark when he heard someone shouting behind him.
It was a Halifax Regional Police officer and it caught him off guard.
“I pretty much thought it was a sidewalk,” said Cleveland, referring to the paved pathway that cuts through the park.
HRM closed its parks, beaches, playgrounds, sports fields and trails after the provincial government declared a state of emergency on Sunday, March 22.
Caution tape was installed at all park entrances, but despite the closure and warnings, people had continued to congregate in the green space and use the pathways, which led the province’s department of justice to clamp down and instruct police to enforce the rules and ticket those who don’t abide.
But on the same day Cleveland received his ticket, flags were installed along the path to allow for pedestrian travel, sending some mixed messages.
“The flags were up here,” said Cleveland, pointing to the pathway. “But there was also caution tape and so they were sending conflicting messages and so I didn’t know what the deal was?”
Cleveland isn’t the only one looking for clarity around the rules that have been put in place to help protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Privacy lawyer David Fraser said he’s just as confused and had read all the orders, saying he wonders if a better communication plan wouldn’t help bring some clarity.
“My concern is with the lack of clarity around the rules which could also lead to problems that could arise from policing,” said Fraser.
“I think we would all benefit from that clarity and I think the police would benefit from that clarity as well.”
This is new territory, said Fraser, calling the pandemic “a fluid situation” with a lot of changes to rules and saying it’s incumbent on the rule-makers to be clear and put the laws into language everyone understands.
“I’ve regularly kept up and read all the orders that have been issued and I’m a trained lawyer so I have a certain facility with those kinds of documents,” said Fraser.
“I’m not so sure we need to expect every citizen to read them…but those orders could be written in a much more clear and cogent way.”
Tristan Cleveland is an urban planner in Halifax and the older brother of Tim, who was ticketed, and says during a public health emergency it’s more important than ever for people to know what they can and can’t do.
“Giving someone a fine for walking alone on what is essentially a sidewalk has absolutely nothing to do with fighting the pandemic,” said Tristan.
Global News received a statement from an HRM spokesperson shortly after the flags were installed at the Halifax Common, saying the city isn’t encouraging people to use the pathways. They are simply open for use when absolutely necessary.
Cleveland is hopeful a clearer message can be shared for everyone who uses the pathway.
“I think they should put up some proper signage,” he said. “I still don’t trust the flagged-off path.”
As for his $697 ticket, he’s not sure what he’ll do with that, as it’s roughly a week’s pay.
“I hope to fight it,” he said.
“It’s a bit ridiculous for walking down the street.”