People are reporting on their neighbours over COVID-19 concerns

By | March 28, 2020

TORONTO — The coronavirus pandemic has revealed how Canadians are reporting on neighbours flouting the federal government’s order to self-isolate and practice physical distancing.

Police in Montreal have confirmed reports are coming in from concerned citizens, though no fines have been issued or arrests made for those who don’t comply with distancing rules.

Psychologist Genevieve Beaulieu-Pelletier said there’s a reason people are calling police.

“In a threatening situation, we tend to control what we can,” she said to CTV News Montreal.

“We’re in a state of powerlessness. By calling the police, I’m trying to control what I can, it’s a way to reassure myself.”

REPORTING ACROSS CANADA

The act of reporting is also being spurred by some government officials across the country.

Alex Bottausci, mayor of the Montreal suburb Dollard-des-Ormeaux, has encouraged people to call the police if they see people not practicing safe distancing.

“If it’s just some people walking through the park, that’s perfectly fine with us. But if people are congregating and they’re having fun and they’re having a party, well, that’s a little bit of a different story,” said Bottausci.

“We’re asking people to please move along and obey the laws. It’s the few that decide they’re above the law and don’t realize they’re actually risking and putting at risk the rest of the community.”

Meanwhile in London, Ont., city officials have set up a new “snitch line” to report people not complying with the federal guidance around COVID-19. 

The goal, according to the city, is to “provide a single point of contact to help ease the demands on other community phone lines, including the Middlesex-London Health Unit and 911.”

While reporting might be done with good intentions, it can still cause problems. 

In B.C., Metro Vancouver’s emergency dispatch centre is seeing a surge of calls related to COVID-19, including “quite a few” involving reporting on neighbours who are not self-isolating or abiding by the physical distancing rules, which is taking operators away from dealing with real emergencies.

“We have received some calls from people complaining that the grocery store line-ups are too long,” Jasmine Bradley, communications manager for E-COMM, told CTV Vancouver.

“Not only is that frustrating, its scary. We’re gonna be relying on the public help to make sure 911 lifelines are kept free for reporting emergencies where police, fire and ambulance are required to attend right away.”

QUARANTINE ACT

The Quarantine Act, which came into effect early Wednesday, means all travellers returning to Canada are now legally required to go into self-isolation for 14 days.

The legislation gives the federal health minister sweeping powers to stop the spread of communicable diseases , including routine screenings by quarantine officers at airports.

Kerry Bowman, bioethicist and professor at the University of Toronto, told CTV News Channel the act could set a precedent for more severe restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19.

He warned that government decisions need to be “proportionate, transparent and fair.”

“So far, compared to other countries, we’re doing fairly well on that front, but trust is essential and if they over-did it and you have a backlash that would be very destructive,” Bowman said Saturday.

“But I think as long as they’ve got our trust it’s going to work.”

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Shannon Paterson, CTV Montreal’s Emily Campbell and Adam Kovac, CTV London’s Amanda Taccone and The Canadian Press

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