Police look to end parades amid pandemic, while local group pushes back

Convoy of Courage. May 2, 2020. (Photo via Brandon Medd)

While Chatham-Kent police are looking to discourage parades and convoys that violate social distancing guidelines, a local group is hoping to keep them going.

The Chatham-Kent Police Service (CKPS) said all events such as convoys, birthday and anniversary cruises, or celebration of life cruises, are considered a parade and break the law due to the current provincial emergency orders in place to protect the public from COVID-19.

Police Chief Gary Conn said police and other emergency first responders appreciate what these gestures represent, but the convoys and parades are illegal.

“Over the past six weeks, we [police] have taken a graduated approach with an emphasis towards education in respect to the numerous orders which have come into effect under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act [EMCPA] due to COVID-19,” the chief said. “During these extra-ordinary times, we appreciate that our citizens wish to help and mitigate the challenges associated to this pandemic in some form or fashion. Although we appreciate the gesture and recognition, exhibited via these convoys/parades, the reality is our citizens are going about it the wrong way and placing [police] and themselves in a real precarious position by facilitating the breaching of an order under the EMCPA.”

The organizers of “Convoys of Courage” has said its convoys will cease after May 9.

“Convoys of Courage” has organized a total of six convoys in CK, with the last one planned in Wallaceburg on Saturday.

One of the organizers, Jennifer Eagleson, told Blackburn News on Monday that the group will follow the police chief’s wishes but hope to work with CKPS to safely continue the convoys in the future. A petition has also been set up online asking people to support the convoys and convince officials to allow them to continue.

“The police have currently put a damper on us having anymore convoy’s after Wallaceburg’s last on May 9 but my team and I will not be going quietly,” wrote another organizer Jennifer Sharrow on Facebook.

Chief Conn said the provincial order is very clear and prohibits organized events such as parades. He added social gatherings before the parade at rally points and, on occasion, after the event at houses has forced police officers to attend and disperse the crowds.

Conn also said organizers risk being sued for hosting the event. He added some drivers have failed to obey the rules of the road as well.

“Road safety is a priority for our police service and as a result, we must ensure that everyone travelling through our community remains safe,” said Conn.

“Convoys of Courage” has admitted to some problems during the recent convoys such as the odd person running a red light or stop sign, or speeding through an intersection. However, the group added it is ridiculous to shut down an event that “has spread cheer and brought so many people smiles and joy during this pandemic.”

Chief Conn said there are other ways to lift spirits without breaking the law such as showing support through social media and creating videos to show appreciation.

“Creating videos as a new alternative way of displaying their appreciation would be just as equally welcomed and encouraged, while remaining at home where we can all remain safe and healthy as we battle through this pandemic and weather the storm,” Conn added.

The group said an online convoy is also being planned for the near future and more details will be released at a later date.

“We want to thank everyone for their support whether they’ve come out and drove along with us, or stood in their yard or at their place of work and waved,” the group said on its Facebook page.