“Social Distancing” Laws and Punishments in Ontario

“Social Distancing” Laws and Punishments in Ontario

The spread of Covid-19 in Ontario has lead the provincial government, as well city officials across Ontario, to introduce regulatory laws and offences associated with “social distancing”.    These regulatory by-laws are considered Provincial Offences, rather than Criminal Charges.  However, because these laws impinge on individual liberties, as well as introduce punishments that may include fines and jail, they should be treated seriously.

Offences Surrounding Social Distancing in Parks in Toronto

On April 1 and 3, Mayor John Tory signed two emergency orders regulating social distancing in City of Toronto parks and public squares.  The city by-law requires individuals who do not reside together to keep at least 2 metres away from eachother.  The set fine is $1,000.  Officers can also issue a Part 3 ticket, resulting in the offence to be taken to court.  In this scenario, fines can be up to $5,000.  There are Covid-19 Enforcement Teams dedicated to patrolling parks and public squares.

Social Gathering Offences in Ontario

There is also currently a provincial order banning social gatherings of more than five people.  The order does not apply to private househoulds with more than five people, amongst other very narrow exceptions.    For example, a funeral will be permitted with up to 10 people present at any particular time.  This law arises from the Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act.  Fines, under this Act, are more onerous than the City by-laws highlighted above. They range from $750-$100,00, as well as up to one year in jail.  Given the risk of jail, these offences would be considered “quasi-criminal” charges.

Brampton issued it’s first significant citation under this Act on April 1, where an individual had a gathering that included 20 people at the househould.

Social Distancing By Closing “Non-essential” Businesses and Public Institutions

The government of Ontario has also used its power under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to shut down a wide array of businesses and public institutions.  The date this order came into effect was March 24, 2020.

It is an offence to fail to comply with this order, pursuant to the Ontario Emergency Act.  Punishments can be significant.  For instance, an individual business owner can be fined up to $100,000 and be imprisoned for up to 1 year. The fine goes up to $500,000 for directors of businesses.  As far as corporations go, fines max out at $10,000,000!   There are no minimum punishments, meaning that Courts have the discretion to assess the fines on a case-by-case basis.

Social Distancing After Returning From Travel

Applicable in Ontario, as well as every other province and territory in Canada, is an order that anyone returning from international travel must stay home for 14 days.

If you are permitted to enter Canada, you will be:

  • asked if you have a cough, fever or difficulty breathing
    required to acknowledge that you must self-isolate;
  • given instructions about your obligations under the emergency order;
  • Violating any instructions provided to you when you entered Canada is an offence under the Quarantine Act and could lead to up to 6 months in prison and/or $750,000 in fines.

Moreover, an individual who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while wilfully or recklessly contravening this act or the regulations could be liable for a fine of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment of up to 3 years (or both).

Police Powers in Ontario Regarding Social Distancing

The Police in Ontario have been given authority to enforce social distancing offences throughout the province.

What To Do If Charged

The first step after being charged is to obtain legal advice if you are unsure of your risk of liability.  Given the broad ranges of fines as well as the risk of jail for some offences, these emergency enacted charges should not be treated lightly.

For more information, or for a free consultion, call (647) 878-6355.

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