Saturday, May 29, 2021

Kingston man ticketed for solitary lockdown protest

Ontario stay at home order needs to be amended to allow outdoor protests | National Post - Christine Van Geyn:

May 26, 2021  "The current stay-at-home order in Ontario needs to be amended to permit outdoor protests, which have been happening all across Ontario. The continued prohibition on public protests is undermining the rule of law through uneven enforcement, it violates our fundamental rights, disrupts the democratic process, is impractical, and is unscientific.

"Every weekend thousands of people gather at Queen’s Park and march through Toronto to protest the province-wide lockdown. And last week thousands of people across the greater Toronto area spent the week protesting in support of Palestinians. These protests are meaningful and are a part of our democratic process. It is how many people express their frustration at government policies and international conflicts. People who may feel otherwise powerless to impact change can protest together to show unity and grab the attention of political elites. Whatever your views on the reason for these protests, they are a Charter protected activity.

"But under the current stay-at-home order in effect in Ontario, people risk tickets when they exercise their right to assemble and express political views. The stay-at-home order requires everyone to remain in their residence unless they fall under a permitted exception that allows them to be out and about. Protesting is not one of those permitted reasons.

"The good news is that police in Toronto do not appear to be handing out tickets for these protests. But the bad news is that this is not the case for protestors in smaller communities across the province.

"Take for example, the case of Robert Bristol in Kingston. Bristol opposes the current lockdown. While supportive of some health measures, he believes that the current lockdown has gone too far and is in many ways irrational. It’s not an especially controversial view. Bristol decided to express his frustration by protesting in front of Kingston City Hall. He carried a 'no more lockdowns" sign and protested alone while wearing a mask. Despite this scenario creating literally zero risk of spreading COVID, Bristol was stopped by police and ticketed for violating the stay-at-home order. Police told Bristol that public protests are not a permitted purpose for being outside his home.

"This is bizarre and unjustifiable.... In the past, remote risk has never justified prohibiting public demonstrations. But if Bristol’s lone protest can be stopped on the basis of some hypothetical and frankly impossible danger, what will this mean for other protests in the future where such risk is actually less remote? It would be quite convenient for the government to prohibit citizens from protesting their policies on this basis. But this is not how governments ought to behave in liberal democracies.

"The practice of uneven ticketing undermines the rule of law, and the prohibition on demonstrations against government policies undermines our democracy. But the argument for allowing outdoor protests becomes even more compelling when one looks at the science.

The risk of transmitting COVID in outdoor settings is exceedingly low.... For example, a study of case numbers in Ireland found that just one in every thousand confirmed COVID cases was traced to outdoor transmission, meaning that 0.1 per cent of total cases was linked to outdoor transmission. Ontario’s own science advisory table never recommended that Premier Dour Ford close outdoor recreational amenities. Dr. Peter Jüni, who sits on the table, has said 'just as an estimate, that outdoor activities are probably roughly 20 times safer than indoor activities.'

"The government needs to amend the stay-at-home order to allow for public protests. And if [Ontario premier Doug] Ford won’t make that change voluntarily, there are organizations that are seeking to compel him to make the change. Bristol, the ticketed lone protestor, is working with the Canadian Constitution Foundation to challenge not only his ticket, but the stay-at-home order as well."

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