Ontario Premier Doug Ford arrives to make an announcement during the daily briefing at Queen’s Park in Toronto, Thursday, April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario Premier Doug Ford arrives to make an announcement during the daily briefing at Queen’s Park in Toronto, Thursday, April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Doug Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

New anti-pandemic powers allow police in Ontario to stop any motorist or pedestrian and ask where they live and why they’re not home

Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in Ontario to stop any motorist or pedestrian and ask where they live and why they’re not home prompted the provincial government on Saturday to reconsider the measures.

As the number of infected people in hospital reached record levels, Premier Doug Ford tweeted that the measures, which also included shutting down all outdoor recreational facilities and playgrounds, would be clarified.

“Ontario’s enhanced restrictions were always intended to stop large gatherings where spread can happen,” Ford said. “Our regulations will be amended to allow playgrounds, but gatherings outside will still be enforced.”

Earlier, a government source speaking on background told The Canadian Press that a “clarification” of the police powers was pending final approval.

“We have heard a lot of feedback on this in the last 24 hours in terms of the scope and applicability,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Civil libertarians, and pundits have attacked new anti-pandemic restrictions announced Friday by Ford as misguided.

The added police powers aimed at enforcing stay-at-home orders, they said, were overkill.

The closing of outdoor spaces puzzled many public health experts, who said the measures didn’t make sense.

“Outdoor activities are vital for mental and physical health, especially with stay-at-home orders,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who sits on the province’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, said in a tweet.

“Science is clear: Outdoor COVID transmission is extremely rare.”

The pandemic, meanwhile, continued unabated on Saturday. The number of patients in hospital due to the novel coronavirus rose above 2,000 for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, with 726 in intensive care and 501 needing a ventilator, authorities reported

Health officials also recorded 34 more deaths related to the virus – the highest single-day count in almost two months , when 47 people were reported as dying from coronavirus disease.

The province logged 4,362 new cases on Saturday, down from Friday’s record-setting number of 4,812. Globally, the pandemic has now killed more than three million people.

Politicians were among those denouncing the new police powers.

In a note to constituents, Jill Andrew, a New Democrat provincial legislator, said the measures show the Ford government is out of touch.

“Let’s be very real here: We are not going to police our way out of the pandemic,” he said. “The reality here is that this will likely impact Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.”

“I am very concerned about arbitrary stops of people by police at any time,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a tweet.

While violating restrictions can carry a $750 fine, failure to provide police with requested information can result in criminal charges, according to the province’s association of police chiefs.

Large and small police forces across the province, however, said they had no intention of exercising their new-found powers.

“I would like to reassure our citizens that our officers will not be conducting random vehicle or individual stops,” Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said in a statement on Saturday.

Andrew Fletcher, chief of the South Simcoe Police Service, said officers would only act on complaints. Police forces from Thunder Bay to Ottawa to Toronto and Woodstock expressed similar positions.

Civil rights groups, however, took little comfort.

“Ontario is one step closer to becoming a police state,” said Joanna Baron, executive director of the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation.

“Low income and minority communities have borne the brunt of this pandemic in terms of cases and mortality, and they are now more likely to bear the brunt of police enforcement.”

The new restrictions, including a two-week extension to the province’s stay-at-home order until May 20, were announced amid dire warnings from government scientific advisers that the pandemic was only set to worsen.

Other measures include further restrictions on outdoor gatherings and indoor religious services, while recreational facilities such as sports fields and playgrounds are now closed. Ontario intends to shut its borders with Quebec and Manitoba to non-essential travel effective Monday.

Ford said Friday the province was “on its heels” and the measures were urgently needed to bring the province’s raging COVID-19 situation under control.

But experts said Ford had missed the mark on key drivers of the pandemic, including a lack of paid sick leave for essential workers and dearth of evidence playgrounds have been a transmission source.

“Doug Ford’s handling of this pandemic has been an abject failure and absolute disaster,” said Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, a father of two young children, welcomed the change of heart on playgrounds, saying “common sense wins.”

“Now let’s have a discussion on other outdoor amenities as well,” Brown said.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

The southern mountain caribou, an iconic species for the Splatsin First Nation, is threatened with extinction, much to the dismay of the First Nation. (Province of B.C. photo)
Splatsin First Nation concerned over dwindling caribou herd

Southern mountain caribou at risk of extinction, will struggle to recover without habitat protection and restoration action - report

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Five-year-old Bayne Krause poses for a photo with his mom Marianne. Bayne’s shirt reads, ‘I have Cystic Fibrosis. Help keep me healthy, please social distance.’ Photo: Laurie Tritschler
West Kootenay mom promotes awareness of cystic fibrosis

Marianne Krause wants people to know what it’s like for her five-year-old son to live with CF

A rolled-over semi along Highway 95. The RCMP have responded to nine collisions in the last month. (Brain Duchovnay photo)
Golden/Field RCMP recap last two months

The RCMP responded to 463 calls to service over the last two months

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
UPDATE: Winfield road open following police, coroner investigation

Pelmewash Parkway closure near Highway 97 connection

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

RCMP (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
High-risk takedown on Highway 1 following Shuswap shooting

Upon further investigation, the vehicle and its occupants were not associated with the shooting

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read