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To: Ottawa City Council, City of Ottawa By-Law and Regulatory Services

Immediately Withdraw Unjust and Unfair COVID-19 Fines Issued to Ottawa Residents!

Immediately Withdraw Unjust and Unfair COVID-19 Fines Issued to Ottawa Residents!

Whereas the already-unconstitutional provincial government emergency closure order related to the COVID-19 outbreak applies to playgrounds, sports fields and courts, off-leash dog areas, skate and BMX parks, benches, shelters and fitness equipment.

Whereas the City made the use of all municipal public parks illegal except for the use of passing through the park, with the potential to fine residents exorbitant fees of up to $880, clearly out of line with the provincial emergency closure order.

Whereas last year the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that these types of mandatory, one-size-fits-all sentences are "grossly disproportionate” that causes deeply disproportionate financial consequences, regardless of moral culpability.

Whereas minimum punishments are an unconstitutional attack on some of the most vulnerable and most marginalized people in our community.

Whereas Chief Medical Officer of the City of Ottawa, Dr. Vera Etches, has stated that outdoor time, specifically for children, is important and safe within the confines of physical distancing.

We the undersigned petition the Council of the City of Ottawa and the By-Law and Regulatory Services as follows:

To waive any and all fines given to those who were alleged to be in breach of the provincial emergency closure order by City of Ottawa By-Law officers and/or police officers.

Why is this important?

Between April 3rd and May 6th, 117 tickets were issued to residents of Ottawa for violating public health ordinances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, law enforcement can issue tickets to gatherings of five or more people in public or private spaces and to anyone using park facilities. These provincial orders are backed up by the possibility of one year in jail and, in all cases, the imposition of a $750 fine and a further $130 mandatory victim fine surcharge. Bylaw officers were deputized to enforce the emergency law, and given the discretion, without any public health training, to decide what is and what is not a public health matter.

These punishments, which have seemingly been applied arbitrarily, are an unconstitutional attack on some of the most vulnerable and most marginalized people in our community. For example, reported incidents from early April highlight the disproportionate impact of Bylaw enforcement and ticketing practices on racialized and marginalized individuals:

On April 4th, a black man was fined $2,010 for being in the park with his daughter. The man, Obi Ifedi, was also allegedly punched in the face by a Bylaw officer.
That same day, Quasi Alnofal - a Syrian refugee with limited English - was also fined $880 for being at the park with his siblings.

For some, staying at home during this period of physical distancing is simply not an option. For many essential workers, an expansive category that includes thousands of minimum-wage and working-class individuals, staying home means losing their home. And urban populations, particularly apartment dwellers, who cannot stretch their legs in a backyard or play with their kids at their double-garage basketball hoop, suffer disproportionately under the new COVID-19 reality. Finally, people experiencing homelessness in Ottawa cannot stay at home to help flatten the curve, as they do not have a home to go to.

Fines are known to have no proven beneficial impact, and do not deter people from unwanted behaviour. High fines and mandatory fines, in particular, are a regressive punishment that have multiple negative impacts on the poor and marginalized. Furthermore, the imposition of a mandatory victim fine surcharge is an unconstitutional indignity. Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that these types of mandatory, one-size-fits-all sentences are "grossly disproportionate” and cause deeply unequal financial consequences, regardless of moral culpability. This type of penalty creates a de facto indefinite sentence for some individuals, because there is no foreseeable chance that they will ever be able to pay the fines which could lead to incarceration and a criminal record. Essentially, these measures serve to continue the pattern of criminalizing and incarcerating people because they are poor.

In short, Ontario’s regressive and discriminatory COVID-19 laws - and the way Ottawa chose to enforce them - flout the fundamental principles at the very foundation of our criminal justice system. In other municipalities, such as Vancouver or Winnipeg, no such tickets have been issued. Why then is Ottawa employing unproven, harmful, and unconstitutional approaches, which are only adding to the pandemic crisis?

On April 6th, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association [CCLA] wrote a letter to Mayor Jim Watson and Chief of Police Peter Sloly regarding the City of Ottawa’s arbitrary and punitive approach to policing the pandemic. The CCLA urged City officials to use enforcement as a last resort and to focus instead on an educational approach to the new public health ordinances. The letter also scolds the City of Ottawa for “overpolicing in a context where [they] have failed to first establish a system of due process.” Given that there is currently no means to dispute a ticket, all tickets “issued to date, during the COVID pandemic, may be unconstitutional.”

On May 6th, after weeks of strict enforcement, the City of Ottawa announced the reopening of green spaces within public parks. Additionally, on May 8th the City announced a ‘Parks Ambassador Program’ to educate residents on the do’s and don’t in parks during the COVID-19 pandemic (an idea proposed by Councillor Carol Anne Meehan and supported by many local groups, including the City for All Women Initiative).

These two announcements demonstrate that the punitive enforcement of public health ordinances was an extremely shortsighted approach. The evidence is clear, minimum fines do not deter risky behaviour, they only punish the poor and marginalized. Policing the pandemic was never about improving public health and safety.

On May 11, Ottawa’s mayor Jim Watson told CTV that he doesn't believe the city’s COVID-19 tickets should be ripped up as restrictions eased. This ignores the harmful impact these tickets have on already racialized, marginalized and disadvantaged people. It also turns a blind eye to the constitutional problems with his ticketing regime. Why does Watson want to spend thousands of dollars prosecuting people who did not knowingly jeopardize public safety?

We are now calling on the City of Ottawa to immediately drop all COVID-19 charges and to waive the payment of the unconstitutional and punitive fines.


Reasons for signing

  • This is an important social justice issue, particularly considering the impact that arbitrarily and unfairly enforced laws with punitive fines have on the poor.
  • Overpolicing and doling out fines in a time where many people have been unable to work or have lost their jobs entirely is absolutely shameful.
  • I have the resources to cope with my ticket -- others don't.

Updates

2020-05-12 14:11:15 -0400

100 signatures reached

2020-05-11 23:00:09 -0400

50 signatures reached

2020-05-11 18:48:54 -0400

25 signatures reached

2020-05-11 16:37:10 -0400

10 signatures reached