Nova Scotia

Police have issued nearly 800 COVID tickets since last spring. Most haven't been paid

Only a small fraction of the nearly 800 tickets handed out to people accused of breaking COVID-related rules have been paid voluntarily, according to the Nova Scotia judiciary.

97 tickets have been paid voluntarily so far, while 248 have gone to court

Police issued 37 tickets this past weekend alone to people they say violated the province's Health Protection Act. (Shutterstock)

Only a small fraction of the nearly 800 tickets handed out to people accused of breaking COVID-related rules have been paid voluntarily, according to the Nova Scotia Judiciary.

As of Monday, police had issued 794 summary offence tickets under the Health Protection Act to people they say violated public health protocols since the start of the pandemic.

Ninety-seven of the tickets have been paid voluntarily and 248 have gone to court. 

Of the cases that went to court, 93 were sentenced, 78 were dismissed, quashed or withdrawn, and two were acquitted. Seventy-five cases are pending. 

Police have issued more tickets since Monday that aren't part of this total, including charging two men for failing to self-isolate in Cape Breton.

Alex Keaveny, a senior Crown prosecutor with the Public Prosecution Service, said some of the cases that went to court were dismissed because a witness didn't show up or there was a mistake with the ticket itself. 

He said in the early days there was some confusion over whether a ticket was issued under the Health Protection Act or the Emergency Management Act.

"And the officer may have laid the wrong ticket, and sometimes that ticket would be quashed by the court," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning. 

Keaveny added that only about 10 tickets have been quashed out of the many hundreds that have been issued.

Dozens of Nova Scotians have been ticketed for not complying with COVID regulations. A crown attorney talks about what happens when someone ignores these tickets or challenges them in court. 7:03

The province recently increased fines under the act by $1,000, and police issued 37 tickets alone over the weekend. Premier Iain Rankin has condemned rule-breakers, calling their behaviour "outrageous" as the province deals with record-high daily cases of the virus. 

People now have an additional 90 days to pay their summary offence tickets, so it's likely there are many outstanding fines that have yet to be processed, said a spokesperson with the judiciary.

Many of the summary offence tickets were issued when the province closed parks and beaches during the first wave last spring, and Keaveny said people's defences in court can vary.

Alex Keaveny has been in court with a number of Covid-related cases. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"Some of them would be as simple as I didn't see the sign before I went into the park," he said.

"Sometimes if it's a gathering, people would say, look, 'I didn't know that the people were going to show up when they did, and the police just happened to come before I could kick them out.'"

Not everyone who goes to court refutes the fine, Keaveny said. Some people plead guilty and ask for more time to pay, or a lesser fine.

What about constitutional challenges?

While there have been constitutional challenges to COVID-related rules elsewhere in the country, Keaveny said it's not always an easy case to make. He expects these kinds of challenges to be rare. 

"At the end of the day, in this country, you don't have an absolute right to really do anything. All rights have their reasonable limits," he said.

"For someone who wants to challenge, they're really going to have to do their homework."

Police in Nova Scotia have issued dozens of tickets in recent weeks, including fining two Halifax men they say travelled to Queens County illegally and refused to leave. 

Keaveny said if people simply ignore their ticket, they'll be found guilty and fines will be collected. 

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning

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