A new report that examined increased policing powers during the first wave of COVID-19 has found that Nova Scotia is one of three provinces that led the nation in ticketing.
“Actually, per capita, you’re ticketing at a higher rate than Ontario. So, it’s actually an enormous level of enforcement for the population and the public health situation that you’re facing,” said Abby Deshman, the Criminal Justice Program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
According to the report, there were 555 COVID-19 related charges in Nova Scotia. Quebec had 6,600 charges and Ontario had 2,853.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says concern over expanded police powers during the pandemic was the driving force behind the project.
The CCLA says that within a 10-day period in March, all provinces and territories declared some state of emergency response to the virus.
However, Deshman says the approach taken to ensuring public health compliance wasn’t the same nationwide and some provinces purposefully avoided using law enforcement as a means to encouraging public adherence to the orders.
“In British Columbia, for example, they had a very concerning curve at the outset and they didn’t involve police bylaw officers, for the most part, in making sure people stayed physically distant,” Deshman said.
Deshman says British Columbia bylaw and police officers were issued guidance by the provincial public health officer but not increased power to enforce public health orders.
“It really was education, supports to community and continuous, consistent messaging from public health officials,” Deshman said.
The report states there are numerous examples of increased enforcement powers and significant fines leading to disproportionate impacts for marginalized and racialized communities.
“People who are highly visible in public space are going to be increasingly on the end of questions from law enforcement. Organizations that work with communities, like the Indigenous community in Montreal, a lot of their clients are homeless, precariously housed, they’re spending times on the streets — they experienced a significant increase in police interactions,” Deshman said.
A spokesperson with the province says as the COVID-19 situation evolves in Nova Scotia, so will the response to public health and law enforcement measures.
“Our communications about public health measures continues to have a primary focus on public education and awareness, and this approach has been discussed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health with the province’s Chiefs of Police,” Heather Fairbairn wrote in an email statement.
Halifax lawyer David Fraser says when police in Nova Scotia were originally granted increased powers under the state of emergency, he had concerns over whether that enforcement would be used arbitrarily.
“I have continued to be concerned about the way that these things are policed, and the way that might have a disproportionate impact,” Fraser said.
Fraser says his hope moving forward is that there will be more of a focus on educating and supporting people during the pandemic, rather than fining them.
“When it comes to measures that really do have a significant public health impact, it does make sense to me to have that kind of ticketing, or, other coercive approach, as a backup, not the first line of attack,” he said.