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Should police be enforcing quarantines and social distancing?

Last Updated Mar 23, 2020 at 5:39 pm EST

In this March 16, 2020, photo a North Charleston police officer carries a protective mask around his gun belt while working traffic at Roper St. Francis' North Charleston office in North Charleston, S.C. The coronavirus has the potential to profoundly change law enforcement in the U.S. as police departments are shifting resources and changing how they police while the virus strikes. (AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)

Every day, with increased urgency, the message is hammered home: We must practice social distancing to stem the spread of novel coronavirus, and in cases of recent international travel, self-quarantining for 14 days is imperative.

And yet every day we see and hear about people who aren’t taking those directives seriously enough, putting lives at risk by threatening to overwhelm our already-stretched health care system.

Despite that mounting concern, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not yet enacted the federal Emergencies Act, which would give the government broader powers to limit travel and enforce quarantines.

During Monday morning’s Health Canada update, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland stated: “The Prime Minister has been very clear that the Emergencies Act is a measure of last resort to be used only when all other tools have been exhausted.”

It appears that the PM’s patience is wearing thin. Trudeau expressed his frustrations with Canadians failing to heed the advice of health experts. “Enough is enough,” he said Monday during his daily update from Rideau College, where he remains under self-isolation. “Go home and stay home.”

“This is what we all need to be doing and we’re going to make sure it happens.”

How the government intends to “make sure that happens” isn’t yet clear, but Health Minister Patty Hajdu hinted at further government intervention if necessary.

On Sunday Hajdu warned that “criminal penalties” are being considered and on Monday she described more possible options.

“There are a number of ways that quarantine orders could be enforced,” she said. “Those could include random inspections, hotlines … we are looking at a variety of different measures should we take that step.”

In the meantime, some provinces have already taken matters into their own hands.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil have both given police increased powers to investigate and make potential arrests.

Moe even urged citizens to call police to rat out offenders.

So far, Ontario Premier Doug Ford hasn’t seemed keen to take similar measures, stressing personal responsibility over police enforcement.

On Monday, Ford announced the shutdown of all non-essential services across the province, putting the onus of businesses to adhere to the provincial directive.

“We have to police ourselves .. yes, we will have bylaw enforcement, but we have scarce resources … so when we ask non-essential businesses to close down, we are asking them to close down. If they want to break that there will be consequences, but we don’t want to run it that way.

“We can’t be knocking on every single business in the province checking on them. They have a responsibility.”

We asked the following question on our social media pages:

  • When it comes to quarantines and social distancing, do you trust citizens to do the right thing, or should police be enforcing with arrests/fines?


Here’s some of your responses:

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