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‘We will not be randomly stopping people’: London, Ont., police chief

"Our plan is to continue to engage, explain, educate & enforce in a fair & unbiased manner. We will not be randomly stopping people," Steve Williams said in a tweet published hours after Ontario Premier Doug Ford's announcement Friday.
"Our plan is to continue to engage, explain, educate & enforce in a fair & unbiased manner. We will not be randomly stopping people," Steve Williams said in a tweet published hours after Ontario Premier Doug Ford's announcement Friday. Google Maps

The Chief of the London Police Service is reassuring Londoners they will not be stopped when driving or walking in the city under the latest COVID-19 public health measures.

“Our plan is to continue to engage, explain, educate & enforce in a fair & unbiased manner. We will not be randomly stopping people,” Steve Williams said in a tweet published hours after Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s announcement Friday.

Read more: Many Ontario police forces won’t use new COVID-19 powers to conduct random stops

Ford’s announcement unveiled several new coronavirus restrictions aimed at curbing record-high cases in the province, including increased police powers.

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Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said police and bylaw officers will now be able to stop motorists and pedestrians to ask them where they live and why they’re not at home.

The new regulations drew immediate condemnation from civil liberties activists.

“Random police stops during COVID are unconstitutional, presuming those outdoors or driving to be guilty,” said Michael Bryant, the executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association through a statement.

“Blanket powers for police to stop vehicles… bends our constitutional freedoms too far, and will cause a rash of racial profiling.”

London’s Black Lives Matter chapter put out a notice on their Facebook page, warning Black and BIPOC populations.

“The police have the ‘right’ to stop you, ask for your address, and where you’re going. This isn’t good… for so many DANGEROUS reasons,” the post read.

“This is not what the community needs right now. This is not the way to respond to a healthcare crisis,” added London city councillor Arielle Kayabaga.

“We need (a) better plan on vaccinating people and not enforcing our way out of the pandemic. I think this was a desperate move from the government and (a) terrible one.”

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In separate statements issued Saturday, both the London Police Association (LPA) and the London Police Services Board endorse the decision to not randomly stop individuals.

“The London Police Association was neither consulted nor given advance notice that our members would be put in this position,” read one statement. “Once again, we find ourselves unwittingly thrust into the middle of the debate centered on a public health crisis and the police.”

Read more: COVID-19: Ontario’s temporary increased police powers raise concerns about random stops, carding

Speaking to 980 CFPL, LPA executive director Rick Robson expressed his concerns that increasing police’s powers may disturb the trust between the public and police.

“It falsely creates this tension and narrative… People are going to draw their own conclusions about what this means,” he said.

Robson also brought up how this shift may negatively affect police officers.

“Part of the equation is the impact on our frontline members… Adding this layer of tension [is] unwarranted and is going to make their jobs that much more difficult.”
Click to play video: 'Ontario’s new COVID-19 restrictions include increased police powers' Ontario’s new COVID-19 restrictions include increased police powers
Ontario’s new COVID-19 restrictions include increased police powers – Apr 16, 2021

As of Saturday afternoon, London Police Service says it is continuing to review preliminary information while waiting for specific details from the government.

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“When the details become available, we will assess the specific [task] of the police, including what our enforcement powers will be, as well as restrictions and exceptions,” read a release.

Several other police forces, including those in Toronto and Kingston, have said they will not perform random stops.

–With files from Global News’ Nick Westoll and Jessica Patton

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