With the Ontario government's stay-at-home order now in effect, the province is promising stiff fines and even jail time for violators.
But during a Thursday morning media conference, Waterloo Regional Police Service Police Chief Bryan Larkin stressed that their approach would be empathetic and caring, only targeting those who overtly put others in danger.
"I do see this as a common sense approach, I do see this as being a good citizen," he said during the virtual conference.
Chiefs of police met with the solicitor general on Wednesday night, trying to determine exactly how police would enforce the order.
We want to ensure everyone stays healthy during these difficult times.
We will NOT do randomized vehicle checks.
Everyone is encouraged to stay home during the state of emergency and only leave for essential purposes.
For more info, visit: https://t.co/7JABg4xCdB pic.twitter.com/8yKfPsqqRf
The next day, Larkin explained that police will stop people if they notice any rule breaking, but that their response will mainly be complaint-driven. Above all, though, he encouraged people to think of one another, reminding the public of the reason the stay-at-home order was enacted in the first place.
"It's actually not about policing. This is about our health-care system and it's about actually capacity of our health-care system," he said.
"I want to consistently reinforce: what we're doing is to actually ensure that we have a safe community and a health-care system that can actually meet ongoing demands."
Ontario reported more than 3,300 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. At least 1,657 people are being treated for COVID-19 in Ontario’s hospitals, including 388 who are in an intensive care unit.
Larkin confirmed that regional police will not be randomly stopping cars or people to see if they are traveling for essential reasons. If police have a reason to stop someone, however, such as for speeding, they are allowed to ask questions about their reason for traveling.
If officers see a group of several people outside, those people would be stopped as well, but Larkin said that would be an opportunity to educate rather than impose penalties.
The solicitor general has said that people who are stopped by police and are believed to be breaking the rules will have to give their name, date of birth and address. Larkin echoed that police are within their rights to ask for that information to enact a judicial process.
Larkin said that, when it comes to enforcement, police are considering it a last resort, focused mainly for people who openly defy the order.
Bylaw officers also plan to take an education-based approach
"If somebody is genuinely unaware and misunderstood, I'd hate to see somebody charged," said Gloria MacNeil, director of enforcement with the City of Kitchener. "That's a significant amount of money."
"We're going to triage every call that comes in and decide how we're going to handle it," said Nicole Papke, director of enforcement with the City of Waterloo. "I would suspect, for us, it would be that flagrant flaunting of the rules."
Guelph police say most people have been following the guidelines and doing what they can to protect themselves and their community.
"All the changes to gathering limits, essential businesses, rules for schools, shopping, restaurants, sports and recreation have been overwhelming," a release from police said in part. "But most people understand the underlying idea is to reduce contact with people they don’t live with."
They said they'll be using a proactive approach, but are prepared to issue fines when appropriate.
They'll also be making large retail stores are complying with regulations and making sure people are wearing face coverings indoors and on Guelph Transit.
"Guelph Police and Bylaw officers may disperse crowds, but will not randomly stop people while they’re out driving, walking, running, cycling, skating etc," the release said.
POLICE ACROSS PROVINCE FOCUSED ON EDUCATION
Joe Couto, director of government relations and communications with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said officers across the province will focus on education rather than enforcement.
"This is a very complex set of emergency measures, particularly when it comes to enforcement for our police officers and also our bylaw officers," he said Thursday. "Our preference is, one, to engage with individuals and, two, to educate."
He echoed Larkin, saying police don't plan to randomly pull people over to ask why they've left their homes. However, he said they'll deal with anyone breaking the rules quickly and firmly.
"We need Ontarians to all pull together so that we can all get out of this COVID situation," Couto said.
Police across the province will be using a complaint-based approach to enforcement and won't be knocking on doors to see if people have stayed in their own homes.
"There's nothing in the new measure that provides law enforcement with either the power to enter dwellings or the authority to stop a vehicle for the singular purpose of checking compliance with the stay-at-home order," Couto said.
He said police services have been busy since meeting with the solicitor general to make sure officers are able to enforce the order.
"They want to be part of the solution of getting us out of the COVID mess that we're in and unfortunately these are extreme measures that are part of ensuring that we can get back to some sort of normal sooner rather than later," Couto said.
He said officers understand people's fears and concerns in a difficult time.
"There is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of mental strain," Couto said. "They're there to ensure that we educate and, in those very rare circumstances, we hope, to enforce what's required under the law."
With files from CTV News Kitchener's Stephanie Villella