Nova Scotia

This many people have been charged with violating Nova Scotia's COVID-19 protocols

Data obtained by CBC News details the number of people who have been charged with violating COVID-19 protocols in Nova Scotia since the pandemic began in March.

Summary offence tickets were issued to 613 different people, 3 businesses from March 24 to Dec. 14

According to the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, 257 cases of violating COVID-19 public health orders have been processed so far by the courts. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

More than 600 people have been charged with violating COVID-19 health orders in Nova Scotia since the pandemic began, with 18 people facing more than one charge.

Dozens of more serious violations will be heading to trial in the spring.

"Anybody who is facing those higher fines ... they have little or no remorse for what they're doing, in our view at least," said Crown prosecutor Rick Woodburn.

"We're setting them down for trials and we are running trials," he said.

CBC News obtained the data through an access-to-information request to the Nova Scotia Justice Department, with additional clarification from the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service.

Crown attorney Rick Woodburn says dozens of people in the database were charged under both the Emergency Management Act and the Health Protection Act, but says they'd only be punished once. (CBC)

An anonymized database showed the date of the alleged violations, and whether charges were under Nova Scotia's Health Protection Act, or the Emergency Management Act.

Between March 24 and Dec. 14, summary offence tickets were issued to 613 different people and three businesses. However, the database doesn't include a ticket that was issued to a Bedford sports training facility on Dec. 7.

How much the fines are

A conviction under the Emergency Management Act carries a maximum fine of up to $10,000 for an individual, and up to $100,000 for a business, plus a possibility of up to six months of imprisonment.

Convictions under the Health Protection Act carry fines of up to $2,000 for individuals and $10,000 for businesses, with a maximum of six months imprisonment. Repeat offences bring a possibility of increased fines, and imprisonment of up to a year.

Dozens of people in the database were charged under both acts, but Woodburn said they'd only be punished once.

"You are committing both offences," he said. "But if they're convicted of both, of course we'd only go with one because they are so similar."

Some guilty pleas

While COVID-19 charges all look the same on paper, Woodburn said they range in severity.

In the early days of the pandemic, there were tickets issued for people walking dogs and exercising in parks that were closed down.

In those cases, Woodburn said fines range from $130 to $200, and the accused tend to plead guilty.

"It's still a hefty fine for somebody for not paying attention to the premier and [Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health] Dr. [Robert] Strang," he said.

A man walks past a COVID-19 alert sign in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on March 26, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

More serious incidents involve social gatherings over the five- or 10-person limits, or large parties with no masking or physical distancing.

"If you fall into some of those more egregious categories, you're looking at $700 to $1,000," said Woodburn. "Now, most of those have now been set down for trial and we'll hear some of those probably in the springtime."

According to the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, 257 cases have been processed so far by the courts.

Of those tickets, 121 were issued in Halifax, 38 in Sydney and 31 in Kentville. The rest are scattered around mainland Nova Scotia.

Unprecedented enforcement

The sheer volume of tickets is a revelation to a public health law expert in Halifax.

"I hadn't realized the use in Nova Scotia was so extensive, so those numbers surprised me a bit," said Elaine Gibson, a professor at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law.

Gibson said prior to COVID-19, public health tickets were most commonly issued to enforce treatment for tuberculosis.

Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency on March 22 to help contain the spread of COVID-19. The declaration remains in effect today. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

She said she's proud of Nova Scotia's pandemic response, and she thinks it's good for the public to know the potential legal consequences for defying the law.

"I think it's important that people start to appreciate that there could be stiff fines levied if they are not in compliance with the requirements," Gibson said.

Woodburn believes COVID-19 ticketing has helped reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the province.

"The police here and our government have done a good job in keeping our numbers down. It's good work," he said. "It's leadership and oversight that helped us keep our numbers down compared to the rest of the country."

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With files from Richard Woodbury

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