Blue Line

Spell out exemption for homeless under stay at home order, advocates urge Ford government

January 13, 2021  By Brieanna Charlebois

Ontario – Though the province intends to exempt the homeless when its stay-at-home order goes into effect on Thursday, advocates are urging the Ford government to specifically outline that expectation to municipalities and police forces to prevent uneven enforcement.

The new stay-at-home order requires Ontarians to remain in their homes except for essential trips, like going to the grocery store, for exercise or health services.

Under a newly redeclared state of emergency, the province said that all enforcement and provincial offences officers _ which includes the OPP, local police forces, bylaw officers and workplace inspectors _ will be able to issue tickets to people who don’t comply with the order.

A spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told the Star in an email on Tuesday that it’s the province’s “intention” that the order won’t apply to people without a primary address, including the homeless. Information about the stay-at-home order and “relevant changes” will be sent out in an All Chiefs Memo to police services, the spokesperson added.


But details of that memo were not immediately clear and advocates on Tuesday urged provincial officials to clearly outline their expectations for the homeless population during the order, to prevent discretionary enforcement by individual officers, police forces or cities.

“Without a specific exemption, there’s no reason to think that folks who are living outside won’t be targeted by bylaw enforcement,” said Diana McNally, a co-ordinator with the Toronto Drop-In Network, pointing to past statistics around policing and homelessness in the city.

A recent report from nearly two dozen community and rights organizations found Toronto’s homeless population to be “intensively policed,” and argued that ticketing homeless people for infractions like sleeping or drinking in public was draining police and court resources. Ninety per cent of those tickets were never paid, the report found.

“It’s already part of how we treat folks on the street, and there’s no reason to believe this would be any different,” McNally said.

“If this population isn’t addressed, if special provisions aren’t made, then you’ll have bylaw officers and police officers maybe unsure of the law and just coming down unevenly and unfairly on folks with nowhere to go,” added shelter worker Tommy Taylor. “It’s good to know it’s their intention ? but I think at this point in the pandemic, intentions are pointless.”

Joe Couto, a spokesperson for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said Tuesday afternoon the association was still awaiting information from the Ministry of the Solicitor General to understand police forces’ role in enforcing the stay-at-home order. Several chiefs, he said, had already been in touch to ask for details about their officers’ involvement come Thursday.

“We’re all in the same sort of boat. We’re waiting for some official correspondence,” Couto said, noting that it would be up to the chief or local OPP commander to be sure that officers were addressing the needs of their own communities, within the emergency measures.

Toronto Police Service said it would be taking direction from the province _ and that the force would “continue to carry out enforcement in partnership with the city.”

In a statement, Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department and Shelter, Support and Housing Administration said city staff hadn’t yet seen the stay-at-home order, nor been given specific direction from the province about enforcement and the homeless population.

The stay-at-home order was announced in a sweep of new measures Tuesday, with details to come about potential further measures like a second residential eviction moratorium.

Ivana Yelich, a spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford, said the government was still finalizing the mechanism to temporarily halt eviction enforcement, but cabinet had endorsed the policy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 12, 2021.

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