Penalties for breaking an imposed quarantine by Public Health

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We all know the drill by now. Wake up. Get ready and get ready to go to work….in our home office or living room or t.v. room or dining table. We have heard the mantras – my work is my home, my home is my work. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water and sing happy birthday twice while doing it. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Now is the time to take control of our destiny. To learn from the mistakes of other countries. To each do our part and stay inside for just a little while longer so we can protect the most vulnerable from this virus. Otherwise, this virus could last for years, just like the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Since the pandemic has hit us, our lives have become an endless amount of video conferences, Zoom calls with our friends, home work-outs and non-stop cooking, baking and uber-eating. The term social distancing has been ingrained in our brains. If you go on social media, you can see the video posts by the doctors and nurses imploring people to stay home and socially isolate. You are also likely to find a post by someone who has lost a loved one to COVID-19 and attempting to get the message out that “if we do not stop leaving our homes, except for essentials, this coronavirus will kill many more people.” In order to stop the spread of this virus and to keep the communities safe, extraordinary measures have been taken to ensure physical distancing.

The governments – provincial, federal and municipal – are all on the same page when it comes to stopping the spread of this deadly virus.

On March 25, 2020, the federal government announced an Emergency Order under the Quarantine Act that requires any person entering Canada by air, sea or land to self-isolate for 14 days whether or not they have symptoms of COVID-19.

On March 28, 2020 the Ontario government issued an order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to prohibit organized public event and social gatherings of more than five people. There are a few exceptions to the rule. This order does not apply to:

  • Private households with five people or more;
  • Operating childcare centres supporting frontline health care workers and first responders provided that the number of persons at each centre does not exceed fifty people.
  • Funerals are permitted to proceed with up to ten people at one time.

On April 1, 2020 Mayor John Tory signed an emergency order No. 1. On April 3, 2020 Mayor John Tory signed emergency order No. 2. Both Emergency Orders were put in place to regulate physical distancing in City of Toronto parks and public squares.

The gist of the orders are that any two people who do not live together, who fail to keep two meters of distance between them in a park or public square, can receive a $1,000.00 ticket – the maximum set fine available. Officers could issue higher tickets that would be subject to the courts where fines could go up to $5,000 upon conviction.

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health issued directives to residents of Toronto:

  • The following individuals are ordered by the Medical Officer of Health, under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, to self-isolate (at home or in an isolation facility) for 14 days:All individuals with COVID-19 who are not hospitalized;
    • All individuals with signs and symptoms of COVID-19, or who are waiting for their test results; and
    • All individuals who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or has the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

In addition to the above, The Toronto’s Medical Officer also instructed that:

  • Anyone who is not ill or has not travelled, is strongly directed to stay home except for the following reasons:
    • accessing healthcare or medication
    • shopping for groceries once per week
    • walking their dogs
    • getting daily exercise while maintaining physical distancing of at least two meters

The orders and directives are not to be taken lightly. There are serious consequences for not adhering the above. In fact, a COVID-19 Enforcement Team has been tasked with enforcing the following:
physical distancing by-law (By-law 322-2020);

  • the provincial orders banning organized social gatherings of more than five people;
  • the bans on using closed playgrounds and other parks amenities;
  • the closure orders on non-essential businesses that remain open; and
  • the requirement that short-term rentals are only provided to individuals in need of housing during the emergency period.

Fines for violating a provincial order under the Emergency Measures Act can range from $750 to $100,000, including up to one year in jail.

Is the Enforcement Team a good use of resources? I think the better question is why is the Enforcement Team necessary? The reason it is necessary is because citizens are not taking the social distancing measures and orders as seriously as they should. You see news reports every day of people getting fined for violating the directive to stay home. Or going to closed public parks, ripping down the yellow caution take and using the park equipment. Some people are still going to see friends and family and socializing as if everything is okay because they do not feel sick. This is unacceptable. All the research has shown that even people who do not feel the symptoms of COVID-19 can have the virus and unknowingly spread it. Until we can stop the spread of this virus the government will use all options and measures available.

The government, the police, the health care workers, the people who have lost family and loved ones to this virus are sending everyone the simple message that we will get through this if we work together and follow the above listed directives and orders. If you do not want to listen to them, then at least listen to your bank account. Because if you are caught violating the directives and orders, you could find yourself with a hefty fine or, even worse, being forced into isolation….in a jail cell.

About T.J. Gogna

T.J. Gogna is a lawyer at Diamond & Diamond Lawyers LLP and member of the Ontario Bar. Learn more about T.J. Gogna.