April 6, 2020
Mayor of Ottawa & Chief of Police110 Laurier Avenue WestOttawa, ON K1P 1J1VIA EMAIL
Dear Mayor Jim Watson and Chief Peter Sloly,
I am writing you about overpolicing and your failure to establish a fair process for challenging COVID tickets.
Firstly, we are receiving a large number of reports from the public that your police and other enforcement officers are not following the guidelines set forth by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police:
At this time, police efforts are primarily focused on public information and education; the ability to enforce is viewed as a secondary consideration in most cases. [E]mphasis is being placed on education to ensure compliance. Enforcement is generally considered as a last resort and is likely to be focused on repeat offenders.1
In other words, educate, educate, educate, inform, warn, then ticket. By all accounts, Ottawa’s enforcement officials are doing the opposite. The point is to achieve compliance with public health goals, not drive up your municipal revenues through a ticket blitz.
Ignorance of the law is ordinarily an invalid defence. But nothing is ordinary about a pandemic. It would be elitist and wrongheaded for the general public to bear the burden of keeping up with the daily barrage of restrictions on peoples’ liberties and penalties to accrue for non-compliance. Families are trying to manage a crisis and unable to keep up with all the Twitter feeds.
To ticket a parent and child for playing in the middle of an otherwise empty park, to take one example, is both disproportionate and contrary to the purpose of the public health ordinances. The point of emergency management today is public health, not public order, at least when public order means cracking down on heretofore harmless outdoor activity. This isn’t the 1970 October Crisis. There are no terrorists or riots out there, only families trying to get some fresh air. Stop ticketing folks like they all have PhDs in epidemiology. Discretion ought to be the order of the day.
No Process Available for COVID Ticket Disputes
Worse, you are overpolicing in a context where you have failed to first establish a system of due process. You have robbed your citizens of their presumption of innocence and a fair trial. Every POA ticket issued to date, during the COVID pandemic, may be unconstitutional, because you have failed to provide a means by which people can dispute a ticket.
Currently, on your website, whereas the opportunity to pay a ticket it made easy, there is no way to dispute a ticket. Payment can be made online; disputing a ticket is not. The means by which one would dispute a POA ticket is to physically attend at the Provincial Offences Court Offices, none of which are open: https://ottawa.ca/en/parking-roads-and-travel/parking-and-provincial-offences-act-tickets#review-trial-options-timelines-1
Accordingly, you have provided people no choice but to either pay their ticket or be found guilty for failure to resolve a POA charge, such failure laying entirely at your feet. Every single ticket you have issued to date is therefore legally dubious, at best; unconstitutional and invalid, at worse.
Thank you for considering the foregoing. We would appreciate a response.
Executive Director & General CounselCanadian Civil Liberties Association
1 Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, COVID-19 Policing during a state of emergency https://www.cacp.ca/index.html?asst_id=2120
See Ottawa’s response to our letter here.
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