'We are concerned': Second wave of provincial stay-at-home orders raises civil liberties concerns

The curfew in Quebec and vague stay-at-home orders in Ontario are raising civil liberties concerns, says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“This is a significant restriction on liberty and we take that very seriously,” said Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program. “We understand that governments are in a situation that they’ve not faced before and they’re really struggling how to manage it, and I wish I had the perfect solutions to do it that didn’t involve restricting all of these liberties, but I don’t.”

Since Jan. 9, Quebec has had in place a curfew, restricting residents to their homes between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. While there are some exceptions, such as taking the dog for a walk, those who are homeless, for example, aren’t protected from the curfew restrictions, which will be in place until Feb. 8.

“By putting a curfew in place, you’ve set a time of day after which police, seemingly, have the right to stop people and question them and ask them why they need to be out of their homes,” said Zwibel.

The province said it was confident police would use their judgement appropriately in enforcing the curfew, which could see fines between $1,000 and $6,000 handed out.

“We do need to worry about enforcement,” said Zwibel.

Her concerns appear to have been realized. Reports have surfaced about questionable enforcement, including the ticketing of evening-shift workers at a meal-kit factory, even though they had letters from their employer explaining why they were out, CTV Montreal reported.  A Montreal woman told media police insisted on searching her bag while she was stopped.

“Those are unreasonable uses of this police power, and we’re concerned about the direction that things are going,” Zwibel said. “It’s sort of exactly what we would’ve predicted, but were hoping wouldn’t be the case.”

The province said it handed out 750 tickets in the first weekend of the curfew.

Ontario on Tuesday implemented a second provincial emergency plan and a more stringent “stay at home” order that many panned as being vague and unclear regarding both the rules, and how they will be enforced. The stay-at-home order will be in place as of Thursday morning for 28 days.

“Stay home. I really could not be clearer,” Premier Doug Ford clarified on Wednesday. “If you’re not sure if a trip is absolutely essential, it probably isn’t.”

The province is recommending against intra-provincial travel, including between primary and secondary residences. Essential workers, defined as those who cannot do their work from home, may still leave home to go to work, but otherwise the province wants everyone working from home. Other closures, such as gyms and indoor dining, remain in effect.

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People may, however, leave home for health-care appointments, groceries and trips to pharmacies. Non-essential retail hours are limited to 7 am-8 pm and curbside pickup. Indoor gatherings are barred and outdoor gatherings are limited to groups of five.

People can also get out for some exercise. “What that means will be unique to each individual Ontarian: some may wish to go for a walk around the block, while others may wish to go to a local basketball court with their household to shoot some hoops,” the government says in a statement.

The restrictions take effect on Thursday.  The state of emergency gives police and bylaw officers authority to enforce the public health rules with tickets.Those who violate the rules could be subject to fines, starting at $750.

“The concern is that by invoking the new state of emergency, and by expanding the number of people who are able to engage in enforcement activities … the people that are charged with enforcement need to get very clear messaging about what their job is, and what their job isn’t,” said Zwibel.

The province said it expected to release more information on how it will enforce the law Wednesday evening.

With files from The Canadian Press

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