With Halifax Regional Police facing criticism for ticketing protesters at a vehicle-based rally over the weekend, Chief Dan Kinsella explained his interpretation of the injunction against public gatherings to the city’s police board.
The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners met virtually on Monday, and during the monthly update from the chiefs of HRP and Halifax-district RCMP, Kinsella said HRP has “continued to engage, educate, and enforce, when necessary, the current COVID restrictions.”
“I’m sure the commission is aware that we had a very difficult situation over the weekend with significant public health risks, and some serious steps had to be taken to ensure that the restrictions and regulations were followed,” he said.
On Friday, the provincial government received an injunction order giving police the authority to arrest anyone breaking public health restrictions. The province sought that order in response to an anti-mask rally planned for Citadel Hill the next day.
On Saturday, police arrested five people at the anti-mask protest on Citadel Hill, and handed out 11 tickets. But in the south end, police also arrested one person and issued 17 tickets at a Free Palestine rally held in vehicles, applying that same authority to a different rally.
Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board, asked Kinsella on Monday to clarify whether the injunction applied solely to the anti-mask rally or to all protests or gatherings.
“My interpretation of the injunction is that it applies to any gathering, subject to all the rules that are in the injunction itself, that may occur anywhere in the province that are in contravention of the public health protocols and restrictions and was not strictly related to the planned event,” Kinsella said.
Smith asked whether the police are able to give permission for rallies outside of the restrictions.
As reported by Haley Ryan for CBC, the Free Palestine rally organizers said they sought police permission:
Dana Elborno, one of the rally organizers with the Atlantic Canada Palestinian Society, said Sunday she is especially upset with the tickets because they reached out to Halifax police days before the rally.
Elborno said police thanked their group for the notice and a few officers arrived at the Inglis Street parking lot around noon before the rally began.
She said the police told them they were there to make sure public health rules were followed, but never said the rally was illegal or that it should be stopped.
“The police do not give permission for rallies or protests or demonstrations,” Kinsella said.
“My understanding is that public health orders are not overridden by any permission given either from the city or by the police.”
Kinsella said the injunction “provided additional measures for the police to assist in keeping the community safe.”
Smith also asked city solicitor Marty Ward for his thoughts on the injunction.
“The instigation for the injunction application was that particular rally, but it has a broader application, which is so the province wouldn’t have to come running back to the courts on a repeating basis,” Ward said.
“If someone, some group wants to know whether they think they’d be in violation of the restrictions, then they should be contacting [Chief Medical Officer of Health] Dr. [Robert] Strang’s office for direction.”
Ward said there have been times when Strang’s office has adjusted restrictions for certain situations, but there’s no application process to act outside of the restrictions.
“And as the chief said, police certainly don’t have any discretion there whatsoever. The directions to the peace officers are simply to enforce the law as it is and if you want to change in the law, well then you approach the province and ask for an exemption or something,” he said.
Strang was asked about the weekend rally during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing. His response:
Right now we’re not allowing any type of gathering under the under the public health orders. Even people getting together in a group in a parking lot together in cars is technically a gathering, because as we saw, not everybody was in their cars, unfortunately. So we need to keep it in very small groups, people have to be within their household groups, or one or two other people socially distance outside outside of their household, but we cannot right now have large numbers of people getting together.
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