Toronto police launching dedicated COVID-19 teams in each division to target large gatherings

WATCH ABOVE: Toronto police have allocated about 80 officers specifically to enforce Ontario's new, temporary COVID-19 stay-at-home measures. Kamil Karamali reports.

Toronto police have announced teams of officers are being set up in each of the service’s 16 divisions to enforce COVID-19 orders and target large gatherings.

According to a statement issued on Wednesday, the teams, which are also working in conjunction with Toronto Public Health and City of Toronto bylaw officers, will become operational at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

“Our divisional teams will focus on large gatherings that fail to comply with the emergency orders, with a particular focus on indoor gatherings such as parties at short-term rentals or at bars and restaurants,” Staff Supt. Randy Carter wrote.

The statement said Toronto police won’t be conducting random stops and people won’t be “compelled” to say why they are outside of their homes. It also said enforcement will not occur at encampments or areas where people experiencing homelessness are.

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The document also noted police can’t enter a home for the exclusive purpose of checking to ensure there is compliance with Ontario’s stay-at-home order. But it said officer can enter if there are “reasonable and probable grounds” (e.g. a noise complaint about a party) to suspect there is non-compliance with the order.

“Officers may exercise their discretion in every situation and where there is evidence of non-compliance, they will issue tickets and summonses for individuals and businesses,” the statement said.

“The public is reminded that when an officer has reason to suspect that an individual may be participating in a prohibited gathering, they are permitted to ask the person to identify themselves in order to issue a ticket or summons.

“If the person refuses to identify themselves for this purpose, they can be arrested and in some cases can be charged with obstructing a police officer.”

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News of the enforcement strategy came just days after the Ontario government faced intense criticism for granting police services across the province temporary powers to randomly stop people who were driving and potentially require them to produce identification, raising concerns about how carding could particularly impact BIPOC communities.

A day after the regulation was announced and after several police services issued statements saying officers would not randomly stop people, the government altered the regulation and narrowed it to focus on large gatherings.

When asked about the Toronto police announcement on Wednesday, Gary Kinsman, a spokesperson with No Pride in Policing Coalition — a Queer and Trans organization focused on defunding and abolishing police services — told Global News he was “alarmed” and concerned for what it might mean for people who have typically seen over-policing.

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“What these new, dedicated enforcement teams actually represent is a real threat to the communities of people who have been most under attack from the police and that includes Black, Indigenous and other people of color, homeless and poor people, sex workers and drug users,” he said, adding he fears there are “potentially quite hazardous” consequences.

“This is going to do absolutely nothing to assist in terms of the reduction of COVID transmission. They’re not focusing on workplaces and of course police aren’t trained to focus on waged-workplaces.”

He also said there is a concern for people who are having a legitimate protest against issues such as residential evictions, racism, paid sick leave or other causes.

Kinsman called for funds being used for the special enforcement teams to be reallocated to community organizations that are working to address COVID-19-related issues.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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