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Physical distancing orders a 'justifiable infringement on human rights': Quebec lawyer
MONTREAL -- Quebec lawyer Julius Grey says the province’s physical distancing guidelines amid COVID-19 may be an infringement on human rights, but given the pandemic, drastic measures are reasonable.
“I think it is a violation of rights, but it’s a violation of rights that is justified in a free and democratic society,” said Grey. “It is justified to try to stop the epidemic just as it was justified to infringe on people’s rights and say ‘You can’t turn on your lights’ when the Germans were bombing London, just like it was justified to tell people ‘You have to leave your homes in Fort McMurray’.”
Last week, police were granted the power to ticket anyone who disrespects the province’s physical distancing guidelines. In the first week, hundreds of tickets were doled out across Quebec.
Citizens have been asked to report neighbours who aren’t respecting physical distancing guidelines as well, but Quebec provincial police said they’re being inundated with calls for nothing.
“Our call centres are extremely busy at all hours of the day,” the Surete du Quebec’s Jean-Raphaël Drolet said in an explainer video on the force's Youtube page. The video aims to highlight when it’s appropriate to report a neighbour and when it isn’t. “Hundreds of people are calling us to ask wacky questions or report inappropriate situations.”
Part of the reason for these calls is because of conflicting information when it comes to the guidelines – officials are saying the rule of thumb is to stay inside unless absolutely necessary, but they’re also encouraging people to get fresh air as long as they remain two metres away from others.
Drolet explained that people shouldn’t call the police on two couples who are neighbours chatting from a fair distance in a private yard, or pedestrians who stop on the sidewalk to chat while respecting the two-metre rule.
“Yes, we have to denounce interior and exterior gatherings,” Drolet said. “But we can’t fall into paranoia.”
“I personally don’t like snitching, even for a good cause,” said Grey. “There are situations where you have to snitch on something where there’s a real direct danger – if somebody’s having a party, and so on – but general snitching is not a nice habit and people should ask themselves before they start accusing neighbours or anybody else, ‘Is this really serious?’”
Exceptions to the two-metre rule in Quebec are outlined on the SPVM’s website, which include people who live in the same household and people who are receiving essential services from others.
“There are exceptions sometimes depending on the nature of the work that people have to do,” said SPVM inspector André Durocher. “If you call an ambulance, the ambulance technician is going to be close to you, closer than two metres, same thing with anybody who’s providing you with some sort of service.”
When it comes to families and roommates not respecting the two-metre rule, Durocher said as long as they live under the same roof, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Grey pointed out the importance of being able to contest tickets given out at the discretion of police officers amid the pandemic.
“It may well be that we don’t have time for it right now and that it’ll go to later, but there should be a power to contest,” he said. “Because otherwise, for instance, what would happen if there was an instance of racial profiling, if some policemen were giving out tickets particularly to a group?”