Local police respond to increased provincial powers

Local police say they won’t be randomly stopping people after being given temporary authority by the Ontario government to enforce the stay-at-home order.

On Friday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford announced further COVID-19 restrictions across the province.

As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, police now have the authority to stop motorists and pedestrians to ask why they are not home and ask for their address. A ticket upwards of $750 could be issued for those who refuse to answer.

On Saturday morning, the London Police Services Board put out a statement in response to the amended stay-at-home order, stating that it has “serious concerns regarding the potential adverse impacts and constitutionality” of the expansion of police enforcement.

London Police Service Chief of Police Steve Williams said through Twitter that the force will not be randomly stopping people.

“Our plan is to continue to engage, explain, educate and enforce in a fair and unbiased manner,” said Williams. “We will not be randomly stopping people. Our goal is to put an end to COVID-19 and we ask for the community’s support.”

The London Police Services Board also said it is encouraging the provincial government to shift its focus to stabilizing the health system and ensuring equitable access to vaccines.

“We cannot enforce our way out of the pandemic,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the St. Thomas Police Service is echoing many of the statements of London police.

In a media release on Saturday morning, the St. Thomas Police Service also said it has no plans to start randomly stopping citizens and will continue to educate residents in an unbiased manner.

“We will continue to police with the same common-sense approach we have used since the beginning of the pandemic,” read the release. “The citizens of St Thomas have taken pandemic restrictions seriously and we appreciate your willingness to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The Woodstock Police Service will also not be conducting random stops and said its response throughout the pandemic has been and will continue to be largely complaint-based.

“Over the past year we have responded to nearly 700 complaints related to violations of the restrictions,” Woodstock police said in a statement. “The complaints received and charges laid thus far have related predominantly to gatherings that exceed the number permitted.”

In Windsor, the Windsor Police Service also confirmed on Twitter that its officers will not be randomly stopping people or vehicles and instead focus on educating the public.

“Everyone has a role and a responsibility to keep our city safe,” read the tweet. “Stay home and do not gather with people outside your household.”

Meantime, the Saugeen Shores Police Service said Saturday that “while it is not the intention of our police service to conduct wholesale random spot checks, persons who appear to be in violation of the order may find themselves being approached by an officer.”

Police in Saugeen Shores will maintain a complaint and proactive driven model of enforcement and compliance with the provincial stay-at-home order, adding that officers will engage, explain, educate, and enforce.

In Chatham-Kent, Chief Gary Conn  emphasized that the primary objectives for CK Police over the next six weeks will be to educate, limit mobility, limit contact and enforce only when necessary with no random vehicle or pedestrian stops.

“As a police service, we recognize and take into consideration that all of our community is experiencing ‘COVID fatigue,’ however these new variances are more transmissible and as a result, collectively we need to be more vigilant and respect these new measures,” said Conn in a statement.

In Friday’s media conference with Ford, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the decision to increase police power was made in response to some people continuing to leave their residence for non-essential reasons.

A full list of what is considered essential under the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act can be found by clicking here.