New Brunswick

More than $20,000 in COVID-19 fines issued, but few details on violations

Provincial enforcement officers handed out more than $20,000 worth of tickets for alleged violations of the province’s Emergency Measures Act over a slightly less than two-month span this spring.

Data on provincial tickets is missing information on what alleged rule-breakers did to warrant a $292.50 fine

Vehicles in New Brunswick are stopped at the Quebec border in Campbellton as an officer asked all motorists a series of questions to screen for COVID-19. New data shows that ticketing was concentrated near New Brunswick's border with Quebec. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Provincial enforcement officers handed out more than $20,000 worth of tickets for alleged violations of the province's Emergency Measures Act between the beginning of April and the end of May.

The data, obtained by CBC News through access to information, includes the date the ticket was issued and the "area of offence," but doesn't provide any information on what the person allegedly did to warrant a ticket with a $292.50 fine.

"The specific reason for violating the emergency order is documented in each ticket but is not collected for statistical analysis," Department of Public Safety spokesperson Coreen Enos wrote in an email. No one from the department was made available for an interview.

The figures show that provincial ticketing has been concentrated near New Brunswick's border with Quebec and in rural communities with small populations. For example, tiny communities like Hoyt, Cornhill and McKees Mills appear on the list of communities where tickets were given out.

Meanwhile, two of the province's three largest cities — Saint John and Moncton — saw only one ticket each during the nearly two-month span. No tickets were given out in three counties clustered in the western part of the province: in York County, where Fredericton is located, as well as Carleton and Victoria counties.

The two most-ticketed communities are both near the border with Quebec. In Saint-Jacques 12 tickets were issued and in the city of Campbellton, ten were issued. The tiny village of St. Martins was the third most-ticketed community, with five tickets all handed out on April 19.

The 70 tickets were all issued by provincial enforcement officers and don't include tickets that have been written by police.

The data indicates that only two of the 70 cases have resulted in convictions, while the rest are listed as "not completed." The province confirmed that means only two of the 70 fines have been paid, for a total of $585 collected by the province.

Research tracks how officers are policing the pandemic

The uneven ticketing raises questions about how the rules are being applied and whether they're being applied the same way across the province.

That's one of the reasons researchers Alexander McClelland and Alex Luscombe started the Policing the Pandemic project. They've been trying to track and map, in almost real time, how police and other enforcement officers have been enforcing emergency rules across the country.

Certain Indigenous communities have seen high amounts of tickets. Then in cities, we've seen primarily poor and homeless people being targeted.-Alexander McClelland

Both McClelland and Luscombe have researched the criminalization of HIV in Canada, detailing how Black, Indigenous and poor Canadians are most likely to be targeted by police. When they started seeing a rise in new emergency powers across the country, they feared a similar trend would emerge.

"One of the reasons that we started this project is that the vagueness and broadness of the rules would mean that it could be applied disproportionately to certain people in certain populations that are often targets of police," said McClelland, who is an incoming assistant professor in the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University.

"Certain Indigenous communities have seen high amounts of tickets. Then in cities, we've seen primarily poor and homeless people being targeted." 

Alexander McClelland is one of two researchers who started the Policing the Pandemic project. (Alexander McClelland)

McClelland would like to see the tickets withdrawn across the country, saying that people aren't clear on what recourse they have when they receive a ticket.

Unclear how many tickets issued by police

Most police forces contacted by CBC News would not reveal how many tickets they've handed out, noting that fines are a last resort.

"The New Brunswick RCMP is not releasing the number of tickets that have been issued as issuing tickets is only one part of our enforcement efforts and does not reflect all of the work that is being done collaboratively with communities, our policing partners and the province," New Brunswick RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh wrote in an email.

An example of a $292.50 ticket handed to New Brunswicker Keith Gagnon in April for allegedly not following physical distancing rules. At least one researcher says the tickets should be withdrawn across the country. (Submitted by Keith Gagnon.)

The Saint John Police Force, Fredericton Police Force, Grand Falls Police Force and Bathurst Police Force also refused to say how many tickets they've issued.

"In all cases, from the information received from members, they were blatant cases of disregard for the mandatory order that put the public health safety of others at risk," Bathurst police chief Ernie Boudreau wrote in an email.

BNPP Regional Police Force, which patrols several small communities on the Bay of Chaleur, has not issued any tickets, according to Chief Charles Comeau, while the Woodstock Police Force has only issued one.

McClelland believes it's crucial for police to be open about how they're enforcing emergency rules and who is being ticketed.

"In the context of the pandemic, this is something that has never been tested before," he said.

"We don't know if ticketing people for [not] social distancing or physical distancing actually even works. So I think police need to be transparent about how they've been mobilizing this so that we can kind of hold it to account and measure it and ask questions about it."

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.

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