A group of 19 Ontario police officers has launched a constitutional challenge against the provincial and federal governments and several police chiefs, claiming that enforcing sweeping pandemic health restrictions puts them at odds with their oath to uphold the charter.
Fifteen active and four retired members of law enforcement agencies — including the Toronto Police Service, York Regional Police Service, Ottawa Police Service, Niagara Regional Police Service, Hamilton Police Service and the RCMP — are behind the civil action.
It was filed in the Superior Court of Justice against the premier, the attorneys general of Canada and Ontario, as well as five police chiefs.
The challenge has yet to be tested in court.
It seeks these declarations:
- Canada’s pandemic laws “are not rational” and have “no force or effect.”
- Lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and curfews are “forms of martial law.”
- Wearing masks, social distancing and lockdowns are “ineffective” and “not scientifically or medically based” because they’re based on coronavirus cases the legal documents claim “are 96.5 per cent false.”
The group also wants the court to declare that religious gatherings and protests are exempt from pandemic restrictions in Ontario.
The lawyer for the officers is Rocco Galati, executive director of the Toronto-based Constitutional Rights Centre. He didn’t respond to a request for comment on Monday, but the legal challenge was detailed in a virtual news conference posted April 30 to YouTube.
Officers describe rank-and-file ‘divide’
“My clients are concerned to the point that they’re stepping forward at their personal and reputational risk because of unwarranted, and hostile and irrational reprisals,” said Galati, flanked by Toronto police Sgt. Julie Evans and York Regional Police Const. Christopher Vandenbos, who are both plaintiffs.
“Anyone who dares speak out is ostracized and attacked, even if they do so in civil and appropriate ways,” said the lawyer.
Both Evans and Vandenbos spoke during the news conference of simmering tension among police officers in some municipalities who are divided on ideological lines — with those who feel pandemic enforcement measures contradict their oaths as peace officers at odds with officers who don’t have that belief.
“The divide that we’re seeing is very visible,” said Vandenbos.
The court application says police supervisors pressure front-line officers to enforce what Galati called “blanket orders” when it comes to wearing masks, physical distancing and limits on public gatherings.
In fact, Evans and fellow Toronto police Sgt. Greg Boltyansky, also a plaintiff in the legal action, are under investigation by the city law enforcement agency’s professional standards branch for allegedly attending a public gathering that contravened Ontario’s Reopening Ontario Act.
WATCH | Police respond to large gathering at Aylmer, Ont., church:
div class=”player-placeholder-ui-container “>
div class=”player-placeholder-video-ui” title=”Toronto police are investigating this social media video” role=”button” tabindex=”0″>
div class=”player-placeholder-ui “>
div class=”video-item video-card-overlay” aria-labelledby=”1889098819606-metadata-” title=”Toronto police are investigating this social media video”>