It is a good thing Premier Doug Ford never became a policeman because with his tendency to shoot first and think later there would have been a lot of collateral damage.
As it stands, when he announces a decision and backs off as soon he finds there is fierce opposition to it, the only hit is to his own image.
I forgot about this tendency of his to beat a hasty retreat, which became evident shortly after his election, when I sat down to write this column on Saturday.
I started off by saying I couldn’t blame the premier for extending the lockdown under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) until at least May 20 because I thought he realized he blew it the last time by re-opening the province too quickly.
But I then turned to the central theme of the piece, which was that I thought he was out of line in giving police temporary powers to enforce the stay-at-home order, allowing them to stop individuals and vehicles to ask their reasons for leaving their homes.
I found it hard to believe that there wasn’t someone at the table who wouldn’t have seen red flags popping up all over the place when discussing a plan that would strip away the constitutional rights of constituents and place an onerous and unwanted task on police.
What the hell? was my first thought, and I wasn’t alone.
The backlash was swift and furious from civil libertarians, public health experts, the general public and media, all who saw the decision as overkill, and many police forces across the province, including Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, indicated they did not intend to make use of their new-found super powers.
So I wrote a column criticizing the government’s decision.
It wasn’t 15 minutes after completion that I got the word that Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, who had originally announced the government’s decision to extend the lockdown and implement the new restrictions, said officers would not have the right to stop pedestrians or drivers to ask why they are out or request their home address
Instead, she said, police will only be able to stop people who they have reason to believe are participating in an “organized public event or social gathering.”
Which is exactly what police, in their wisdom and in defiance of the government, intended to do anyway, not wanting to have anything to do with something that seemed to have more than a little touch of Naziism in it.
In her original announcement, Jones had said:
“It is imperative that everyone limit their trips outside of the home to permitted purposes only, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, medical appointments, outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely.”
In a question and answer session following the news conference, Jones clarified that anybody who refused to answer police questions about why they were outside were “breaking the law” and could be fined $750 for a first offence
Actually I found it hard to understand why the province included this restriction in its latest order, considering that it didn’t do so when emergency restrictions were put into effect during the last lockdown which began in January.
At that time the solicitor general’s office specifically assured the public that police would not be stopping Ontarians simply for being outside.
“On its own, being outside is not sufficient evidence of a failure to comply with the stay-at-home order,” a spokesman said at the time.
And that lockdown seemed to work.
From 3,500 new cases of the coronavirus Covid-19 a day, the lockdown reduced that number to under 900.
Then in February the government decided to reopen the province, essentially leaving us to our own devices to fight the virus.
We blew it, or at least some did. There were gatherings, there were parties, there was travel, there was too much letting down of the guard, bringing us to where we are today, facing a tidal wave of new cases that without these drastic measures could possibly, we are told, reach 20,000 a day.
If the premier had kept the January lockdown in place, especially in the Greater Toronto Area, for at least another two weeks as he is doing with this one, it might have gone a long way toward making this one unnecessary.
Some employees I spoke with here said they would have been prepared to go through a lockdown longer because they weren’t looking forward to having to do it again, as has now proved to be the case.
However, maybe I am looking at it too simply. After all, we weren’t contending with variants of the virus back then.
I believe the lockdown had to be imposed again and I have no problem with it being extended to at least May 20 because it was obvious we weren’t going to do it on our own.
SaultOnline recently produced a local story that although short on facts did aptly illustrate how we were falling short. The story told us about a party for teenagers that resulted in the spread of the virus and as a result was being investigated by the police and Algoma Public Health.
The word around the city is that the party was put on by a teacher for her daughter and her friends.
If that is indeed the case, that teacher should be fired.
We have been fairly lucky in the Sault area, our case count being far below that elsewhere in the province, but we still have people travelling and congregating.
If it takes strong measures to stop this, then so be it. As I have said before, we are in a war we have to win.