The Ontario Provincial Police says it will be stopping cars on highways 401 and 417 where they cross into Quebec as part of its new mandate to restrict interprovincial travel.
But many of the province’s municipal forces, including the Ottawa Police Service, are saying they won’t do random checks on city streets of pedestrians and motorists.
On Friday, the province gave police the authority to stop pedestrians and motorists and to demand an address and an explanation as to why they left home.
A government source told The Canadian Press that a clarification, now being considered by the provincial government, would emphasize that the enforcement measures were designed to target illegal social gatherings, not individuals.
A spokesman for the OPP said Saturday that the police service would be stopping drivers on the main artery between Ottawa and Montreal, Highway 417, as part of new enforcement efforts under the province’s stay-at-home order.
“The OPP will have a presence and will be stopping vehicles at all of the land crossings in our jurisdiction, including Highways 401 and 417,” said Bill Dickson, assistant manager of OPP media relations.
Under the government’s new stay-at-home order, Dickson said, police have the authority to ask individuals and motorists their purpose in leaving home.
“Those not travelling for essential reasons will be refused entry,” he said.
Exceptions will be made for work, medical care, transportation of goods and the exercise of treaty rights by Indigenous people.
The government of Premier Doug Ford announced Friday that it wanted all unnecessary interprovincial travel stopped as part of its desperate — and much criticized — attempt to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
Quebec Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault also announced Friday that travellers from Ontario would be stopped from coming into Quebec starting Monday. “The propagation of variants must be limited. It’s a matter of safety,” she said.
It’s not yet clear how the two provinces will work together in policing interprovincial crossings.
The Ottawa Police Service will be responsible for restricting travel across the bridges that link Ottawa with Gatineau. Those five bridges saw more than 180,000 trips a day before the pandemic, although one of them — the Alexandra Bridge — has recently been closed because of construction.
In a news release, the Ottawa police said an operational plan to restrict travel across the bridges would be released late Sunday.
As part of its stay-at-home order, the Ontario government handed police the authority to randomly stop people and to ascertain their addresses and why they left home.
But a host of police forces, including the Ottawa Police Service, have said they will not be making random stops of pedestrians or motorists. Police leaders in Toronto, Peel, Halton, London, Waterloo, Guelph, Kingston and Niagara have adopted the same position.
“We do not want these powers to impact public trust,” Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said. “The OPS will continue to use a combination of education, engagement and enforcement.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association had condemned the new, arbitrary powers handed to Ontario police, calling Ford’s announcement the “Black Friday of right slashing.” It said the initiative presumed anyone outside of their home was guilty and risked worsening the problem of racial profiling.
Under the government’s stay-at-home order, individuals who fail to comply with its restrictions can be fined $750 or more, while those who host parties or gatherings that violate the new rules face fines of up to $10,000.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, urged Ford to reconsider the expanded law enforcement powers. “To give the police the right to stop and question citizens is akin to martial law,” Thomas said. “If improperly applied or perceived as being used to target, it will be remembered in history as carding on steroids.”
In an interview late Friday, Sloly said the Ottawa Police Service intended to apply the new regulations “in the most ethical, legal, effective way possible.
“We’ll do it in the larger public health framework as opposed to a purely enforcement-based standpoint,” he said.
Sloly said maintaining public trust was critical, particularly in a public safety crisis.
“Without the actual consent and co-operation of the public, this is not going to work,” he warned.-With files from the Canadian Press