Lockdowns, curfews, stay at home orders, guidelines, rules… What can I do? Where can I go?
During the pandemic, many are confused as to what they can do or must do. It is very important that your ongoing Charter protected rights continue to exist, but that these do not stop you from being required to follow rules imposed on your activities due to the pandemic.
In January 2021, the Ontario government imposed restrictions based upon a provincial declaration of emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, and amendments to regulations under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. In some areas of the province, Medical Officers of Health have issued section 22 orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act which add further restrictions or requirements in specific public health units.
Under the stay at home order of January 14th, Ontarians were required not to leave their home except for essential purposes. Grocery shopping, medical appointments and limited outdoor exercise were considered to be essential. At the time of writing, various parts of the province are in different levels of lockdown, and the situation will continue to fluctuate over the coming months.
The ability of the police to enforce the guidelines and restrictions under such orders is limited. Random street checks are not permitted. There must be some underlying basis for citizens to be stopped and questioned. If a vehicle is stopped for an apparent traffic offence, the drivers are only compelled to produce identification and provide their name and address. There is no obligation to provide any additional information, even when or if asked questions related to stay at home orders and outings for essential purposes.
In the legislation that authorizes orders for restrictions on gathering sizes, requirements for face coverings, and social distancing rules, there are specific tools for compliance, typically that you can be charged with a provincial offence.
Blatant conduct that is unquestionably in breach of a stay at home order, like a large neighbourhood party without social distancing, can be investigated and may lead to charge(s).
The best advice to avoid an uncomfortable encounter and need to assert your rights not to provide information? Listen to the public health recommendations and stay at home!