What Can Police Do to Enforce Ontario’s Stay-At-Home Order?
In response to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government issued a stay-at-home order on January 12. This order prohibits individuals from leaving home except for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping, exercise, healthcare services, and curbside retail. Police may issue tickets to individuals who do not comply.
Since the province announced the order, an ever-present question has been: Can the police randomly stop me and ask me to identify myself? If so, must I tell them where I’m going? What are the penalties for breaking the rules?
Let’s break this down into four parts:
- Can the police randomly stop me?
Another way this question comes up is: I’m out walking my dog. Can the police stop me for violating the stay-at-home order?
The answer is no.
To stop you, police require “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe that you’re violating the rules. Mere suspicion or a hunch is not enough. Simply being outside would be insufficient.
The province has also informed police chiefs that the measures do not allow police to enter homes or stop cars to ensure compliance with the order. In other words, police may not do stay-at-home spot-checks.
Courts have not weighed in on when police have reasonable and probable grounds to suspect a breach of the stay-at-home order. But one hypothetical example of reasonable and probable grounds might be multiple people coming and going from a house where loud music is playing. Such a situation could be evidence not only of leaving home but of an illegal reason for doing so.
The reasonable and probable grounds requirement does not prohibit police from trying to converse with you. Nothing disallows an attempt at friendly dialogue. However, you are not obligated to speak to the police. And, what you say may give rise to reasonable and probable grounds to stop you.
If you decide to speak to the police, don’t lie. Misleading police officers may leave you charged with obstruction and facing hefty fines or a criminal record.
2. Can the police ask me to identify myself?
If the police have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that you’re violating the stay-at-home order, they may ask you to identify yourself. When asked, you must provide your:
- correct name;
- date of birth; and
- and address.
3. Must I tell the police where I’m going?
Other than identifying yourself, you have a right to remain silent if the police are questioning you.
But if you’re not violating the emergency order, telling the police why you’re outside might be wise. Again, you shouldn’t lie.
4. What are the penalties for breaking the rules?
Those who violate the stay-at-home order could face fines up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison.