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Canadian officials forced to backtrack on extreme COVID restrictions after police refuse to enforce them


'We have implemented the strictest measures in all of North America'

Cole Burston/Getty Images

Authorities in Ontario, the most populated Canadian province, recently enacted pandemic-related restrictions that are so strict that not even law enforcement agencies are willing to enforce them.

Now, they're already being rolled back.

What happened?

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced new extreme public health restrictions that tightened existing restrictions and enacted new, even stricter COVID rules.

The restrictions ban residents from gathering with people outside of their household and prohibit most outdoor activities, even limiting outdoor gatherings among people from the same household. Playgrounds were made off-limits for Ontario children. Restaurants and gyms remain closed, and schoolchildren will continue to receive their education via distance learning. Of course, social distancing and face masks are still required.

"We have implemented the strictest measures in all of North America," Ford said at a press conference. "But we have never shied away from doing what's necessary."

The new health order also significantly empowers police to enforce the restrictions, essentially allowing police to stop people without cause or reason.

"We have made the deliberate decision to temporarily enhance police officer's authority for the duration of the stay-at-home order. Moving forward, police will have the authority to require any individual who is not in a place of residence to, first, provide their purpose for not being at home and provide their home address. Police will also have the authority to stop a vehicle to inquire about an individual's reason for leaving their residence," Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones explained.

Jones also suggested that neighbors should "snitch" on one another if they don't abide by the new restrictions.

How did police respond?

The majority of police agencies in Ontario said they would not enforce the restrictions by conducting random stops of individuals.

"New emergency orders announced yesterday to help limit the spread of COVID-19 are now in effect. The Toronto Police Service will continue to engage, educate and enforce, but we will not be doing random stops of people or cars," police in Toronto, the largest city in Ontario, tweeted.

In fact, 39 out of the 45 police agencies throughout Ontario said they would not enforce the restrictions by conducting random stops, the Post Millennial reported.

How did officials respond to opposition?

After triggering widespread criticism and opposition, Ontario officials backtracked on some of the extreme restrictions and enforcement measures.

Ford announced Saturday the playground restrictions would be rolled back.

"Ontario's enhanced restrictions were always intended to stop large gatherings where spread can happen. Our regulations will be amended to allow playgrounds but gatherings outside will still be enforced," Ford said. "Play outside safely. Parents keep your distance & wear masks if you can't."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the solicitor general, Stephen Warner, said enforcement measures have been "refocused."

"We have refocused O.Reg 8/21 Enforcement of COVID-19 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. Every individual who is required to provide a police officer or other provincial offences officer with information shall promptly comply," Warner said.

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