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Ontario walks back new policing powers following pushback

Ontario's government walked back some of its new policing powers one day after they were announced, now only allowing police to stop vehicles or people if they are suspected of participating in an organized public event or social gathering.

Doug Ford's government initially said on Friday that police could stop people at random and ask why they are not at home and where they live as part of a strengthened stay-at-home order to help stem a rising number of COVID-19 cases.

In a statement Saturday, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said officers will no longer have the right to stop any pedestrian or vehicle to ask why they are out or request their home address.

"If a police officer or other provincial offences officer has reason to suspect that you are participating in an organized public event or social gathering, they may require you to provide information to ensure you are complying with restrictions," Jones said

"Every individual who is required to provide a police officer or other provincial offences officer with information shall promptly comply."

The statement said the government's priority has always been to discourage gatherings and crowds that violate the stay-at-home order. The price of a ticket if individuals refuse to comply remains $750.

"That is why we provided police services with the additional temporary authority to enforce the stay-at-home order by putting a stop to gatherings and crowds," the statement read.

The change came after several police services across Ontario took to social media on Friday saying they won't comply with the new powers to stop people and question their reason for leaving home.

Legal challenge on pause

Before the changes were made, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) issued a statement Saturday saying it had retained counsel and was preparing to go to court in the coming days to challenge Friday's announced regulations.

But following the amendments to the regulations by the solicitor general Saturday night, the CCLA said it would "take yes for an answer and put this legal challenge on pause" as the revised order "restores an investigative detention standard for police stops."

CCLA executive director Michael Bryant, a former Liberal attorney general in Ontario, had previously called the new policing measures "a Black Friday of rights slashing by Queen's Park," following the Ontario government's announcement on Friday.

Full list of new COVID-19 emergency restrictions in Ontario

  • Starting Monday, the province is setting up checkpoints at all interprovincial borders. Ontario will limit access to border crossings between Ontario and Manitoba and Quebec.

  • Travellers who are coming into Ontario for work, medical care, transportation of goods and exercising indigenous treaty rights will be exempted.

Stay-at-home order

  • The stay-at-home order, which went into effect on April 8 and was expected to last for 28 days, will now be extended for an additional two weeks. It will now be a six-week-long order that will last until May 20 at least.

  • Residents must remain at home at all times, with exceptions for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work.

  • Businesses across the province must ensure that any employee who can work from home does work from home.

Outdoor gatherings limited

  • Starting Saturday, all outdoor social gatherings and organized public events will be prohibited, except with members of the same household. A person who lives alone could gather with one other household.

  • All outdoor recreational amenities such as golf courses and basketball courts will be closed. The province originally ordered the closure of all playgrounds, but reversed the decision Saturday afternoon following backlash to the order.

Retail capacity slashed

  • Non-essential stores must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m., including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery.

  • Capacity limits for in-person shopping in all retail settings where in person shopping is permitted, including supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores and stores that primarily sell food and pharmaceutical products, will be limited to 25 per cent capacity.

Places of worship

  • Starting Monday, capacity at weddings, funerals and religious services will be limited to 10 people indoors and outdoors.

  • Drive-in services will be permitted.

Non-essential construction

  • The government says non-essential construction will close, including construction at shopping malls, hotels and office towers.

  • The province says it launched an enhanced provincewide inspection campaign of construction sites, dispatching 200 workplace inspectors, supported by provincial offenses officers, to visit 1,300 constructions sites to enforce COVID-19 safety requirements.

New Enforcement Measures

  • If a police officer or other provincial offences officer has reason to suspect that you are participating in an organized public event or social gathering, they may require you to provide information to ensure you are complying with restrictions. Originally, police officers had the authority to randomly stop people and require them to provide their home address and purpose for not being at their residence. Police also had the ability to stop vehicles to inquire about and reason for people leaving their homes. The government later walked back on those orders.

  • Provincial offences officers will also be visiting over 500 workplaces this weekend in the COVID-19 hotspots of Ottawa, Toronto and York Region. Their visits will include big-box stores, food processors, manufacturers and warehouses.

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