Hundreds contest fines related to COVID-19 regulations

Only about 500 people have agreed to pay fines so far, Quebec's Justice Ministry says.

Only about 500 people have agreed to pay fines so far, province's Justice Ministry states

Montreal police officers patrol in a park in May. Many people who received fines for breaking pandemic-related rules are now contesting them. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

More than a third of the people who were ticketed for violating COVID-19 regulations are in the process of contesting them, provincial data shows. 

According to statistics published by the Quebec Justice Ministry's office of offences and fines, more than 3,500 fines had been issued for violating public health regulations by Aug. 24, including for breaking the public health limits on gatherings. 

But more than 1,200 of those fines, which range between $1,000 and $6,000, are in the process of being contested.

"We can explain that by the really high value of those fines," said Thierry Rassam, lawyer and president of SOS Ticket. 

"The amount surpasses $1,000. That is a very significant amount of money."

Rassam said that, especially for those currently living off of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), those fines could really eat into someone's budget. 

Rassam, whose business usually specializes in people contesting traffic violations, has decided to represent some of the people contesting these tickets. 

"It's not always a fine that can be contested with success. What we don't know yet is how judges will rule on it, because this hasn't gone before a judge yet," he said. 

Because of delays, it may take several months before the contested tickets are actually heard in court. 

According to the statistics published so far, about 500 people pleaded guilty and agreed to pay their fine. 

In hundreds of other cases, there was no information available on the nature of their pleas. 

Some community organizations are demanding amnesty for people who have been fined, fearing the impact it could have on the province's homeless population and others struggling financially. 

"The direct result of this criminalization will be to isolate people and to distance them from their communities, as well as from health services," said Marjolaine Pruvost, a coordinator at TOMS, a group of community organizations fighting HIV/AIDS. 

Last June, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said police forces should focus on prevention instead of handing out tickets.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Éric Plouffe