April 21, 2020
Too many COVID charges, too many tickets, too many fines. It’s a public health crisis, not a public order crisis. Too many Canadians doing their best have been charged under new COVID laws – laws which change rapidly, differing from city to city, province to province. It’s confusing. One day it’s okay to go here, but not there, and the next day it changes. Instead of relying on police and bylaw enforcers to educate and warn the public about these new changes, arbitrary enforcement blitzes have launched in too many regions of Canada.
Dog walkers, families getting fresh air, and honest mistakes have been met with charges that some simply cannot fight or cannot pay. The homeless face impossible choices: stay inside an overcrowded shelter or risk a charge outdoors. Racial profiling also becomes a reality for too many minorities outside, during COVID. And the financial penalties being levied are wildly disproportionate to the alleged offence – particularly against the backdrop of massive unemployment and financial hardship.
So we launched a project to amass as much information as we can about unjust charges and tickets during the pandemic. Read more about that on our website.
Our goal during this pandemic is to prevent civil liberties infringements where feasible, hold public authorities to account, and focus upon those most vulnerable to abuse of power. There are several remedies that we regularly pursue at CCLA, typically in courts and classrooms, but also through public campaigns.
There are rarely simple solutions for remedying complicated injustices. At CCLA we want to explore all avenues of redress for laws passed during COVID which wrongly violate peoples’ rights and freedoms. Will we try to fight some of those charges, as test cases? We are working on that as we speak. Will we advocate in opposition to fear-based COVID over-policing? We’ve been doing a lot of that. So, what about amnesties?
Amnesties have been used in the past, in Canada, from libraries seeking the return of books, through the 1973 amnesty to legalize illegal immigrants, to police seeking to rid homes of unregistered firearms. Some municipalities have also utilized amnesties to have parking tickets and other local offences resolved expeditiously and fairly, without hearings that tax both citizen and the judicial system, by lowering the penalty amount, by law, to permit speedy resolutions. Amnesties are rightly being considered by human rights organizations, such as the Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights, with respect to those incarcerated in dangerous prison conditions of confinement during this global pandemic.
There is a risk to moving too quickly, however. Amnesties can be prematurely introduced by governments, such as routinely occurred in France after presidential elections. Premature government amnesties can render disorder that subverts the rule of law. But it’s not too soon to begin thinking through, and debating whether and how this might be an effective remedy in the future.
What should be done, collectively and individually, with the thousands of charges, by the time the emergency management orders expire? While we continue to pursue the work discussed above, we want to hear from you about your ideas, your recommendations and your priorities, as members, supporters and followers of CCLA.
Please email CCLA@CCLA.ORG and put “Amnesty” in the subject, to provide us with the feedback we need to get this right. (We will also develop a form within the week to solicit feedback). This is a campaign starts today, but will grow tomorrow.
Stand with us in standing up to abuses of power during the COVID19 public health pandemic.
Executive Director & General CounselCanadian Civil Liberties Association
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