Under Ontario’s stay-at-home orders and extended COVID-19 lockdown, new directives have been given to enforcement agencies, including frontline police, health unit staff and bylaw officers.

They include the ability to issue tickets to those who:

- aren’t complying with the stay-at-home orders 

- those not wearing face coverings indoors,

- fining companies who don’t enforce these restrictions and

- the ability to temporarily close a premises to stop a gathering.

However, the detachment commander for the Kenora OPP, Insp. Jeff Duggan, says this doesn’t mean police have the power to pull you over and ask why you’re out of your home.

“No, they don’t. Police should make every effort to ascertain as to why you’re out, but it’s not a blanket authority just to pull people over. We don’t have the authority to randomly pull people over, nor would we. We don’t have time for that to be honest,” he said in an interview Friday. 

Duggan says Ontario’s rules aren’t like those in Quebec, where a curfew is in effect. The curfew in Quebec requires residents to be in their home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. each night, and the public health law in that province allows police to stop Quebec residents, if you’re out past that time.

Ontario’s stay-at-home orders are different. They require all residents to stay home, unless for essential purposes. These include:

- going to the grocery store or the pharmacy,

- accessing health care,

- exercising or

- going to an essential workplace.

However, residents do not have to provide proof of this from their employer, for example.

“We have a three-phase approach to the enforcement of those act,” explains Duggan.

“First is education. Second is discretion. Finally, and we don’t like to do it, but it’s enforcement,” he said. 

Enforcement would include being issued a provincial offence notice with set fines, ranging from about $200 to $1,000. Duggan says police have only had to hand out one offence since the pandemic began, as education and discretion methods have been working.

“If our officers are out on-patrol, they see a group ice fishermen, and there's eight of them. Then, we’re going to stop. We're going to talk to them. We're going to educate them on what the law is. We're going to ask them to separate and put a mask on, and that’s probably going to be the end of it,” he said. 

“But in those cases where people are defiant, or they just aren’t listening or we have repeated calls for service, then we're probably going to turn to enforcement,” added the inspector.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says ice fishing is allowed, as it’s considered to be exercising an Indigenous Treaty right.

However, you’re encouraged to:

- only go out with other members of your household,

- maintain social distancing,

- wear a mask and

- follow social gathering restrictions of 5 people or less.

The detachment commander notes there’s nothing stopping people from going to their camps or cottages, but officers may stop and investigate, if there are a large number of vehicles in a driveway.

“We’re certainly going to stop and investigate how many people are there, and are they from the same household. Because, if they’re here and they’re from the same household, it’s allowed. It’s when there’s 5 people from different households, that’s the problem,” he said. 

Ultimately, Duggan is asking the public to stay home whenever necessary, and they should follow all gathering restrictions, so we can transition out of the state of emergency, as soon as possible.

“Stay home. If everyone did that and stayed home and followed the rules, this pandemic wouldn’t be over, but it would certainly be a lot less trying for our healthcare sector,” he said. 

“That’s really what we’re worried about. Keeping Ontario safe and guarding our healthcare system, so it doesn’t get overloaded,” he continued. 

Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms, or who has been in contact with a positive case, should self-isolate and get tested and remain in isolation until your results are known. 

For more information:
Ice fishing allowed, with conditions
Ontario issues stay-at-home orders, state of emergency