Nova Scotia police move cautiously on enforcing state of emergency

Now that Nova Scotia is under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, police have more rules to enforce.

The province has called on RCMP and municipal police forces to help ensure citizens practise social distancing and self-isolation, as needed.

Even though police can now issue summary tickets for those offences, RCMP and Cape Breton Regional Police say they are not making immediate plans to ramp up that part of their enforcement duties.

RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said they plan to focus on education rather than enforcement, for now.

“It’s not that we’re out there trying to issue as many of those tickets as we can,” she said on Monday. “We’re trying to work with our partners at the province and other law enforcement agencies to try and reduce the spread of the virus.”

The province announced a state of emergency on Sunday. As of Monday, there were 41 cases of COVID-19 in the province.

RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Clarke says traffic stops are inherently risky and It’s not always possible for officers to remain two metres away while asking for a driver’s licence and registration. (CBC)

RCMP have already seen an increase in public health calls over the last couple of weeks thanks to the coronavirus, said Clarke, and the state of emergency won’t change that.

“The difference that some people might see is that some of the more minor calls we’re able to deal with without a front-line police officer going to it, just to minimize their chances of being infected with the virus,” said Clarke.

Cape Breton Regional Police and the RCMP are both prescreening calls to help officers decide when they need to don protective gear and officers are practising social distancing while on calls, where possible.

Clarke said traffic stops are inherently risky, though, and officers have the discretion to decide how to handle those calls.

It’s not always possible to remain two metres away while asking for a driver’s licence and registration, she said.

“There are things you need to observe in and around the vehicle, so how that police officer chooses to do that based on all of the circumstances is entirely up to them,” she said.

Robert Walsh, acting chief of the Cape Breton Regional Police, said it’s too soon to say how policing will change under the state of emergency.

“A lot of this is in very early stages,” he told CBC’s Mainstreet Cape Breton on Monday afternoon.

“This only really took effect today and so there’s much work to do, but I can tell you that we know most citizens are doing what they should to protect themselves and others.”

Acting Chief Robert Walsh says the Cape Breton Regional Police force is looking at ways to create a backup contingent of general duty officers in case others get infected with COVID-19. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Walsh said the CBRM police force — which has had a high number of officers off sick — is in good shape.

“We’re actually now looking at the means to allow general duty patrol officers to self-isolate and be on reserve so that they remain healthy and that we’re able to call upon them when needed to come out,” he said.

No CBRM officers have COVID-19, but two are self-isolating due to travel, Walsh said.

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