We have used this space more than once to caution about needless and punitive police ticketing during this Covid pandemic. Now the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has confirmed in a study that aside from Covid, the past few months have seen an “ugly ticketing pandemic” in the words of executive director Michael Bryant, and one that has hit visible minorities and vulnerable people the hardest. Perhaps uglier still, is that our initial criticisms that our police here were are out of control has been confirmed.
Since the pandemic began police across the country have written $13,000,000 worth of tickets. And 77% of them were written here in Montreal and Quebec. Most of them against visible minorities and the vulnerable. They were written for things as non-sensical as two people sitting in a car but didn’t live at the same address to couples shopping at markets in districts not close to where they lived to people walking their dogs and getting too close to pedestrians. Even homeless people have been ticketed. The average fine has been an astounding $1500 at a time of economic disaster.
These measures did nothing but provide a back door tax grab.But worse still, their issuance flaunted the rule of law. As constitutional attorney Julius Grey has warned, “The rule of law has not been put on pause and the Charter of Rights has not been repealed.” Some were not listening.
From our editor to our reporters, dozens of police officers were talked to. Not one said that any of these tickets were issued for a specific violation of a law or by-law with a section number and the name of the law infringed. To a man they said they were told by their commanders, ever since the state of emergency was declared by Montreal and by the SPVM, that the “guidelines” were to use whatever tools it took to encourage and enforce distancing. Many commanders encouraged the issuance of fines. The tickets simply said “Loi de santé publique” and sometimes the words “ordre publique” were added. The City of Montreal set the ludicrous amounts. It got so bad at one point that Premier Legault had to remind police that he was depending on their “common sense.”
But this ugly situation on Covid tickets has within it possible solutions that can serve as models in the current debate on reforming police procedures relating to visible minorities. Three reforms seem self-evident. First, Police should wear bodycams. Both in Covid incidents and racial incidents, versions conflict. It becomes he said, she said. Cameras would certainly put an end to that. And there should be stiff fines for officers turning them off. Secondly, no ticketing, no hassling, no stop and frisk, no approaching people sitting peacefully in their cars, unless a law is being broken. As Premier Legault said, “common sense.” Thirdly, stop profiling. Fourth, all police officers should be given an intensive two week course in both the federal and provincial Charters of Rights. Most police officers don’t even know that the Federal Charter is what is called a “fundamental law” and all laws from the Criminal Code to the Highway Code must be applied within its condition. Fifth, the federal government must be urged to restore the protection of “reasonable cause” before a police officer can approach a citizen whether in their car or home. The Trudeau government eliminated it in Dec.2018. Canada is the only democracy without it. And no democracy has issued as many tickets as this nation. Reasonable cause protection is the key to restoring control over unbridled police tactics and restoring the foundations of mutual respect between citizens and security authorities.