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Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during second wave: CCLA report

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OTTAWA — Provinces became more punitive in their approach to COVID-19 infractions during the second wave of the pandemic, says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in a report that suggests Quebec and Manitoba were particularly forceful in handing out tickets.

The association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight the pandemic by focusing on proven public-health policy interventions including paid sick leave and education rather than punitive enforcement measures.

“A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,” says the report released Thursday.

“Punishing people with charges and fines misses the target – the virus itself – often in ways that exacerbate pre-pandemic inequality.”

The organization’s director of criminal justice Abby Deshman said the group was able to obtain data documenting the number of tickets issued for alleged violations of COVID-19 restrictions in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

The report examines the policing of COVID-19 orders in these jurisdictions between roughly September 2020 to March 2021, with the exact dates depending on provincial data available. It also compares first-wave ticketing to that of the second wave.

Deshman said the number of tickets in four out of the five provinces increased from the first wave and some of the jumps were “quite substantial.” Several provinces introduced laws that allowed for more enforcement and higher fines, she noted.

“The provinces have now reached over $24 million in fines issued since the outset of the pandemic, which is really an astounding amount of money,” Deshman said.

In Manitoba, about 30 COVID-related fines and charges were issued between April 1 and June 15, 2020. But beginning in November 2020, Manitoba law enforcement officers began giving out upwards of 100 fines per week resulting in a per-capita ticketing rate that was about three times higher than most of the other provinces studied, the report says.

Between September 2020 and February 2021, Manitoba issued 904 tickets to individuals and businesses, totalling well over $1 million in fines, according to the report.

The press secretary for the minister of health and seniors care in Manitoba said the provincial government is committed to protecting residents from the spread of COVID-19.

“Strong enforcement of public health orders is only one component of our multi-pronged approach, which also includes community supports, paid sick leave, and education,” Brant Batters said in a statement.

Quebec was identified as one of the most punitive provinces even during the first wave. Between April and August 2020, the province gave out 3,756 fines valued at $5.5 million, the report says.

Deshman said Quebec exponentially increased its COVID-related ticketing throughout the second wave, even in months when infection rates were going down.

Between September 2020 and March 2021, the province gave out 7,445 fines, totalling $12.2 million, according to the report.

Marie-Louise Harvey, the spokeswoman for the minister of health and social services in Quebec, said the ministry understands the impatience that people feel because of the restrictions.

She said everyone is looking forward to the end of the containment measures, including a curfew, as quickly as possible, but these measures are in place in order to preserve the health of the population and the capacities of the province’s health network.

“Currently, (the department) is working with the government to allow gradual easing in the coming weeks,” she said in a statement in French.

Ontario was one of the provinces that handed out the most tickets during the first wave and it surpassed that number during the second wave, the report says.

Between March 2020 and August 2020, the province reported issuing 2,562 fines, compared to 3,942 fines from September 2020 to March 2021.

The report noted that the number of tickets issued by bylaw and police officers in Toronto and Ottawa generally decreased during the second wave of the pandemic.

Brent Ross, a spokesman for the ministry of the solicitor general in Ontario, said the government made its decisions during the pandemic with the goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“The measures that have been brought forward are based on public health advice,” he said in a statement.

“In the event that individuals are not following the rules we have confidence that enforcement personnel will exercise appropriate discretion.”

The report said that B.C. took a model approach to enforcement from a civil liberties perspective during the first wave when it managed to effectively flatten its COVID-19 curve without imposing some of the harsher lockdown measures seen in other provinces.

Enforcement activity has increased significantly in the province since then. B.C. reported handing out 1,584 fines between August 2020 and March 2021 compared to approximately 22 COVID-related fines in the first few months of the pandemic, according to the report.

The B.C. government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The report said that Nova Scotia was the highest per-capita ticket issuer among the five provinces in the first wave. Its law enforcement continued to give out fines for COVID-related behaviours during the second wave but at a much lower magnitude.

Of the total 912 fines given across Nova Scotia between March 2020 and February 2021, 76 per cent were given out during the first wave.

Heather Fairbairn, a spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia justice ministry, said the government’s focus has always been creating an environment of awareness, understanding and caring.

“The province remains in a state of emergency. When issues with compliance put our province at risk, there are measures in place to help protect the health and safety of all Nova Scotians,” she said in a statement.

Deshman said it’s become clear in the third wave that many of the people getting sick and dying from COVID-19 are being exposed to the virus in their workplaces or because they live in crowded apartment buildings.

“These are not people that are acting irresponsibly or recklessly.”

Policing already disproportionately and unjustifiably impacts racialized communities and those experiencing homelessness, addiction or mental-health challenges, she said.

“These are the very communities that, in many parts of the country, are experiencing the worst of this pandemic, and that are now being exposed to additional harms of an enforcement-led public health response.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2021.

——

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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Two charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance in Regina

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REGINA — Two people accused of killing a Mountie by hitting him with a truck in rural Saskatchewan made their first appearance in court Monday.

Alphonse Stanley Traverse, 41, and Marlene Velma Louise Pagee, 42, have been charged with manslaughter in the weekend death of Const. Shelby Patton.

RCMP have said the 26-year-old officer died Saturday after he stopped a suspected stolen truck in the small town of Wolseley, 95 kilometres east of Regina.

Patton was hit by the truck before it sped off. The officer died at the scene.

Pagee and Traverse were arrested two hours later in a field outside Francis, a town about 80 kilometres southwest of where the officer was killed.

They also face charges of failing to stop after an accident resulting in death as well as of theft of a motor vehicle. Pagee is also charged with possession of a controlled substance.

They appeared in a Regina court in person. Pagee is to be back in court Friday, while Traverse is scheduled for a video appearance on Monday.

Both are from Winnipeg and RCMP have said the truck was stolen in Manitoba. Winnipeg police said they could not provide any information about the investigation.

“The tragic, senseless death of Const. Shelby Patton is being investigated by Saskatchewan RCMP,” Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver wrote in an email.

Manitoba court records show Traverse and Pagee have been in and out of jail for multiple convictions, including theft and break and enter. In 2006, Pagee was found guilty for operating a motor vehicle while being pursued by police.

Both face outstanding charges in Manitoba for unrelated offences.

Meanwhile, a memorial of flowers continued to grow at the Indian Head detachment where Patton was posted.

He had been a Mountie for just over six years and worked at the detachment since 2015. Before that, he was briefly on assignment at Parliament Hill.

Saskatchewan RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said officers have appreciated the outpouring of support and condolence messages.

“These messages help us through this difficult time. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to let us know they share our grief,” Blackmore said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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Putin likens Russian crackdown to arresting Capitol rioters

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is to meet President Joe Biden at a summit Wednesday, has suggested that the hundreds of people arrested for rioting at the U.S. Capitol are being subjected to “persecution for political opinions.”

Putin is likely to come under strong criticism from Biden at their meeting in Geneva for moves against his political opponents in Russia, particularly the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the detention of thousands of demonstrators protesting his arrest, and the outlawing of Navalny’s organizations as extremist.

“You are presenting it as dissent and intolerance toward dissent in Russia. We view it completely differently,” he said in an interview with NBC News broadcast Monday. He then pointed to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington when protesters barged into the Capitol to try to halt the count of electoral votes to certify Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump.

“Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? … They came there with political demands,” he said.

Although the protests that erupted across Russia after Navalny’s arrest in January were unsanctioned, demonstrators were largely peaceful and did not enter government buildings or cause significant property damage, unlike the Capitol riot.

Putin also reiterated denials that the Kremlin was behind last year’s poisoning of Navalny with a nerve agent that nearly killed him.

“We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody,” Putin said.

“Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?” Putin said, referring to Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a window that led to the House floor.

At a news conference after a NATO summit Monday in Brussels, Biden declined to assess how he’ll measure the success of his meeting with Putin because “the last thing anyone would do is negotiate in front of the world press.”

Biden described Putin as “bright,” “tough” and a “worthy adversary.” But he indicated he would remain wary of any commitments coming out of their meeting, saying he would “verify first and then trust” the Russian leader.

He also suggested he’d be looking for areas of agreement with the Russian president, while also warning him against continued aggression towards the U.S.

“I’m gonna make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses, and if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and other activities, then we will respond, we will respond in kind,” he said.

In his NBC interview, Putin sharply dismissed the cyberattack allegations against the U.S. as baseless.

“Where is the evidence? Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical,” Putin said. “We have been accused of all kinds of things — election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth — and not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations.”

In April, the United States announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and new sanctions connected to the so-called SolarWinds cyberattack in which several U.S. government branches experienced data breaches. U.S. officials blamed the Russian foreign intelligence service.

In May, Microsoft officials said the foreign intelligence service appeared to be linked to an attack on a company providing services to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

At the summit, Biden also is expected to raise the case of two Americans imprisoned in Russia: Paul Whelan, who was convicted of espionage, and Trevor Reed, convicted of assaulting police while drunk. U.S. officials say both were convicted in biased trials on flimsy evidence.

Putin said of Reed, a 29-year-old former Marine: “He’s just a drunk and a troublemaker.”

Putin brushed off one possible source of tension in the upcoming summit: Biden’s claim that he once told Putin he considered the Russian leader soulless.

“I do not remember this particular part of our conversations,” Putin said.

—-

Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed.

The Associated Press

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