Charge dropped against teenager fined for playing basketball in park

OTTAWA, ONTARIO: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is pleased to announce that the charge against teenager William Vogelsang was withdrawn today at the request of the Crown Prosecutor. William was ticketed in April 2020 for contravening an Order made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. His transgression was playing basketball alone in a local park.

In March 2020, the Ontario Government declared a State of Emergency in response to Covid.  Public places, such as parks, were closed for any form of gathering, although some exercise outdoors was allowed.

On April 15, 2020, Vogelsang, who was 17 at the time, went to a local park to get some fresh air and play basketball by himself.  Two Ottawa by-law enforcement officers approached and informed him that the park was closed except for walk throughs. William told the officers that he believed that playing basketball as a group was banned, but that he could play by himself. He then told the officers that he would leave voluntarily.

Vogelsang identified himself verbally to the officers but did not have any identification with him. He offered to have his mother send a picture or have it brought to the park. Instead, the officers called Ottawa Regional Police to confirm his identity. He was detained by the by-law officers for over 20 minutes while they waited for police to arrive. Despite being detained, he was not read his rights or permitted to speak to a lawyer. After his identity was confirmed, he was issued a $880 ticket.

Vogelsang’s ticket made national headlines at the time.

Vogelsang immediately completed the back of the ticket, requesting a trial date, and mailed it to the local Courthouse. After almost three years, on March 31, 2023, the Court issued a Notice of Trial which was sent to him by mail. The trial was scheduled to proceed on May 25, 2023.

Counsel for Vogelsang raised several issues with the Prosecutor including the lengthy delay, that officers failed to facilitate his right to counsel while detained, and the overall lack of public interest in continuing the prosecution. Vogelsang’s legal counsel also made several follow up requests for additional disclosure and was eventually informed that the second by-law officer had no notes and no recollection of the interaction.

On the morning of May 25, 2023, the date of the scheduled trial, the Prosecutor withdrew the charge and informed the Court that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

Vogelsang’s legal counsel, Chris Fleury, states: “Our client is thrilled with the outcome and excited to move on with his life after facing this charge for over three years. While we would have preferred that William not be charged in the first place, this is the best possible outcome for him.”

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