Unlike Crime Stoppers, or the emergency 911 line, 'sntich lines' are anonymous and Canadians seem relatively eager to report on violations of orders regarding emergency COVID-19 rules (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

Are Canadians willing police ‘informers’?

Snitch lines busy over COVID-19

With severe restrictions placed on business and individual movement in efforts to reduce the spread of the virus, several cities across Canada have set up so-called ‘snitch’ lines where people can phone in or text and report on others they see not following the rules.

This can be extremely costly to those caught, and Canadians seem only too willing to report fellow Canadians to the police.

Most city parks, sports and recreation fields, and dog parks have been ordered closed to keep people from congregating, while some have remained open but with a requirement for people to keep their distance from each other.

In Toronto, on Tuesday alone the snitch line received some 482 calls about people in parks, golf courses and simply not keeping distance from each other. Other calls have been to report ‘non-essential’ businesses which were still open.  Police have issued 53 tickets since August 4, which are in the hundreds of dollars each.

Michael Bryant is executive director of the CCLA “At some point this pandemic, in some jurisdictions, stopped being about public health and started being about public order, because politicians weren’t seeing the behaviour that they wanted out of their constituents When enforcement is unfair and arbitrary, people become less compliant and more defiant. They focus less on trying to obey the rules, and more on trying to not get caught.” (M Bryant via CBC)

Over the weekend, the snitch line in London Ontario received about 800 informant calls and emails. While in Hamilton, informants alerted bicycle riding police who then swarmed a few people on the closed city golf park, walking or attempting to play a round, issuing tickets of $880.

In Truro, Nova Scotia, someone informed on two women with their dogs on a closed soccer field. Police wrote tickets for $697.50 each.

In the Ottawa Ontario area a man who said he understood gathering in parks weren’t permitted but thought walking his dog alone through a park was ok, found out it wasn’t. He was handed an $880 fine.  Montreal police are reported to have issued 67 fines of over $1500 each, including a group of dozen young people playing soccer. Someone informed on a 23 year old Regina woman for an unspecified instance on non-compliance with the health orders resulting in a $2,800 fine.

As in Orwell’s 1984, people are starting to be wary of their neighbours.Michael Bryant, is head of non -profit legal advocacy group, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Quoted by the CBC he said, “Snitch lines” can escalate fear, anxiety and panic at a time of crisis, It brings out the worst of us”

Saying people don’t want to live in a “surveillanc society”  of informers, Bryant said such practices don’t unify Canadians but rather “divides us” he added, “Deputizing citizens to be police officers of an emergency management order is not constitutional and if it technically is, it is the makings of terrible, terrible governance and politics”.

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