London’s chief of police is reassuring racialized communities that they will not be unfairly targeted by officers enforcing Ontario’s stay-at-home order.
Since the province issued the order last week in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, members of Black, Indigenous and colour communities have spoken about fears that enforcement could be biased.
“If any instance of somebody not being treated appropriately, being targeted, being subject to biased treatment, came to my attention, either internally or through a member of the community, then it would be addressed appropriately in a timely manner. We take it very seriously,” London Police Service Chief Steve Williams said on CBC’s Afternoon Drive.
“Over the last several years, we’ve invested in so much training and education surrounding anti-racism, implicit and explicit bias at all levels of the organization. It’s not something we just started doing.”
The provincial order requires Ontarians to stay at home and only go outside for essential trips. It also grants police officers the authority to disperse gatherings and ticket people and businesses who are not complying with the order.
On Monday, Williams released a video message to clear the air about the role London police will play when enforcing the order.
“Enforcement is not our our our starting point,” Williams said on CBC’s Afternoon Drive. “The police services throughout Ontario, including London, have adopted a strategy we call the four Es. Essentially what that means is engage, explain, educate and then enforce as a last resort.”
Afternoon Drive5:59London’s police chief says people should not fear discrimination from cops due to stay-at-home order
Williams said that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, police have been enforcing laws in response to complaints, mostly about large gatherings such as house parties.
“It’s not our intent to randomly stop cyclists, pedestrians or motorists for the sole purpose of checking on their compliance,” Williams reiterated, adding that if officers do come across someone who is not complying with the orders it will be addressed appropriately.
Williams said that there are many valid reasons that align with the provincial order for people to be out of their homes, including grocery shopping, medical appointments as well as continuing to work in jobs considered essential.
While police will not be asking for people to show proof of essential employment, Williams said in his video message that if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is violating the order, enforcement may require the person to provide the officer with their name, date of birth and address.