Do I have to answer police questions when I’m outdoors during COVID-19?
To deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the government of Ontario has introduced special emergency rules. Some municipalities have also passed new bylaws to deal with the pandemic.
Make sure you understand these new rules in Ontario and in your municipality. Ontario's emergency rules give provincial offences officers extra powers to ask you questions to make sure you're following the rules.
Provincial offences officers include:
- police officers
- First Nations constables
- special constables
- municipal by-law enforcement officers
Questions about who you are and where you live
If a provincial offences officer believes that you are not following the emergency rules, they can ask you for your name, date of birth, and address. Usually, you don't have to answer questions like these, but the law is different during the pandemic. If the officer is asking questions because they believe you're not following the emergency rules, then you must answer.
In most situations connected to the emergency rules, you only have to give your name, date of birth, and address. You don't have to answer any other questions.
Questions about what you’re doing
There is one situation when you may have to give the officer more than just your name, date of birth, and address.
If the provincial offences officer believes you're breaking the rules by gathering outdoors with more than 5 people, then they can ask you for more information. The law is not clear on exactly what information the officer can ask you for, but usually it should be information that helps the officer to figure out if you're following the emergency rules. If this happens, you must answer the questions.
If you don’t answer questions
If you don't answer police questions connected to the emergency rules, then the police may charge you with the criminal offence of obstructing the police.
Before you decide whether to answer questions, you can ask the police what law they believe you're breaking. If they're not asking you questions connected to the emergency rules, for example the stay-at-home order, then in most situations you don't have to answer. But even though you don't have to answer, in many cases, it can be helpful to at least give the police your name and date of birth.
If you're Black and you experience issues with the police, you can contact the Black Legal Action Centre at 1-877-736-9406.
If you're caught breaking the emergency rules, the police can charge you with one or more provincial offences. The police might give you a ticket or a summons that tells you to go to court.
The minimum punishment for each provincial offence is a $750 fine. If you tried to stop the officer from giving you or someone else a ticket, the minimum fine is $1,000. The maximum punishment for each offence is one year in jail, or a fine of up to $100,000.
Many municipalities have also passed their own by-laws with fines that may be different than the provincial amounts. Check the rules in your municipality.
If you continue to break the rules, you can be charged with a separate offence for each day that you break the rules.