COVID crime

Hit and Miss #159

A fine Sunday to you!

Earlier this week, Ontario announced a new set of “compliance mechanisms” to try to reduce community spread of COVID-19. Billed as “the most stringent in all of Canada”, they include $10,000 minimum fines for organizers of private events with more than 10 people indoors or 25 outdoors (and $750 fines for attendees).

Minimum fines like these, especially of this scale, have a disproportionately large impact on marginalized communities—they’re likely to fall hardest on those with the least resources. $10,000 means something different to somebody making $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 a year than it does to somebody making $80,000.

A number of questions and concerns arise from the introduction of measures like these. What constitutes a private gathering, for one—if everyone is 2 metres away and wearing masks, would that qualify? How will these gatherings fall on the radar of enforcement officers—will neighbours turn on neighbours (the “snitch line” concept), will there be increased surveillance of certain neighbourhoods (and, well, we know which neighbourhoods won’t be as attentively policed)? The potential for arbitrariness is high, and it’s in the hands of police and bylaw officers.

Months ago, when parks and play equipment were closed, we saw how heavy-handed rule enforcement can impact some communities more than others. In April, Ottawa bylaw handed out fines to people who didn’t seem to know the latest rules on closures, and who had only limited English with which to discuss the situation. This coincided with a broader chilling effect on going out even for walks, as some stayed home out of fear of not knowing the rules. You can read more about some of the unjust implications of measures like these at the Policing the Pandemic project.

“Compliance measures” like these are a serious lack of compassion on the part of government officials—and they put yet more tools in the hands of police and bylaw, who already wield their existing powers with a fair degree of arbitrariness.

Thinking about this has me reflecting on the question of “Which version of the pandemic are you living?”

Well friends, that’s all from me for today. All the best for the week ahead.