The Justice Centre represents an Edmonton man who was ticketed on April 17, 2020 for “contravening an order of a medical officer of health” while peacefully expressing his opinions on a public sidewalk in Old Strathcona. He was issued a ticket for $1,200.
The man and two friends were speaking and distributing written material to any passerby willing to receive it. They were careful to stay two meters apart from themselves and passing pedestrians, going so far as using gripping tools mounted on poles to give out their material.
Despite the current situation with COVID-19, the sidewalks where the three men were expressing themselves were busy, with many people walking and waiting in line to visit takeout restaurants and grocery stores in the immediate area, which is a lively commercial part of the City.
At approximately 6:30 PM, an Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Officer on a bicycle, Sergeant Blackburn stopped and told the three men that he had received complaints, that they must stop speaking and that they must all leave. Sergeant Blackburn threatened that if they were not gone when he returned, he would ticket all of them.
The three men continued to exercise their Charter freedom of expression. Sergeant Blackburn returned approximately 30 minutes later and issued a ticket to one of them for $1,200 pursuant to section 73(1) of the Public Health Act. Sergeant Blackburn refused to ticket the other two men, even after they had requested to also receive tickets.
Sergeant Blackburn stated the ticket was in response to complaints over not maintaining “social distancing.” In fact, the sidewalks in that area are over 12 feet wide, and the three men were more than six feet apart from each other, and stationary, while they spoke and distributed their material.
“The Canadian Constitution protects the rights of people to peacefully express themselves on streets, whether through music, art, or the written or spoken word. The Charter does not cease to protect these rights, even during a time of crisis,” stated Justice Centre lawyer James Kitchen.
“COVID-19 has not suspended the rule of law. Public health orders cannot be abused by Peace Officers to punish citizens who are publicly expressing themselves—all while complying with public health orders—with draconian fines. Further, Peace Officers are required to exercise their own judgment, rather than acting blindly on complaints,” added Kitchen.