London’s chief of police is promising his officers will be bias-free in their enforcement of the “re-focused” police mandate to curb the spread of COVID-19, while thanking the province for listening to widespread concerns that the initial plan was flawed.
The provincial government said Friday police could stop pedestrians and drivers at random to ask why they were not at home, and to ask for their address.
After widespread refusal from police forces across Ontario to enforce the rules, including by the London Police Service, the Ford government walked back the mandate Saturday.
Police are now being instructed by the province to stop anyone if they’re suspected of participating in an organized public event or social gathering.
“I have faith that our officers will continue to deliver exemplary service to the community as they do every day and that will include bias-free enforcement of the updated legislation,” Chief Steve Williams said in a statement Sunday.
All along, police and city by-law officers have issued fines to people participating in large gatherings prohibited under the current stay-at-home order.
The revised rules, which do allow stops if police suspect individuals are congregating outside their households, remains troubling for lawyer and Police Services Board Vice Chair, Susan Toth.
“How does one even begin to guess if someone is going to a large public event?” Toth said on CBC’s Fresh Air on Sunday. “It doesn’t really make any sense.”
Toth said what was shocking about the initial powers granted to police to conduct random checks is that there was no consultation with police services.
“To know that the solicitor general, with no concerns, or at least no apparent concerns to be fair, says ‘We’re going to allow this vast sweeping expansion of powers, without a second thought, without consultation I think is really troubling,” Toth said.
Ontario’s <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/police?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#police</a> leaders welcome changes made by <a href=”https://twitter.com/ONgov?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ONgov</a> to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/covid19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#covid19</a> enforcement measures for police officers, which clarify there will be no random stops of individuals. Please help stop the spread of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/StayHome?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#StayHome</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/StaySafe?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#StaySafe</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/StayHealthy?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#StayHealthy</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CACP_ACCP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CACP_ACCP</a> <a href=”https://t.co/nYKqORGRqi”>pic.twitter.com/nYKqORGRqi</a>
Both the board and Chief Williams opposed random checks initially proposed by the province. They joined a chorus across Ontario who questioned the constitutionality of the decision.
Similar to carding
Toth said the government failed to see how their initial plan could potentially pit police against community members, in particular racialized groups.
Toth was one of the Londoners who worked to end the practice of carding, or street checks, in 2017 which saw racialized people stopped without explanation more frequently than Caucasian drivers or pedestrians.
Ontario passed a law that year which says police must explain why they’re stopping and asking an individual for their information.
“I think there’s a lot of frustration that [police] are having to fix the trust that keeps falling apart and then being undermined locally.”
Going forward, both the police and the City of London said they will continue with an educational approach to enforcing the stay-at-home rules.
“We will continue to focus on the 4 Es with regard to the police response to COVID-19: Engaging, Explaining, Educating and Enforcing,” Williams said.
“We recognize that the vast majority of Londoners have complied with the Order to-date, and we thank you for that.”
In a statement sent Saturday, the city said by-law officers will continue to address infractions and will continue to respond to complaints.
Williams said he also appreciates that the provincial government listened to concerns from both the public and police services.
Fresh Air10:21Vice-chair of London Police Services Board slams province for lack of communication, unwanted expansion of police powers