What rights do the OPP have under COVID-19 regulations when pulling you over?

Ontario Provincial Police Photo by Shutterstock/Jim Reed

The COVID-19 regulations enacted by the Ontario government on January 14 have many cottagers confused about whether they’re allowed to visit their cottages. According to the regulations, a cottager is allowed to visit their secondary property if they are there for less than 24 hours and are attending to essential maintenance, or if they intend to stay at the cottage for at least 14 days.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), however, are asking people to stay within their local areas and to only travel for essential purposes. OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said that officers won’t be performing random spot checks, but if pulled over for a traffic violation, the officer may ask the driver where they’re going.

If you do choose to travel to your cottage and are pulled over by an OPP officer, you may be wondering what rights the officer has in terms of questioning and ticketing you. We spoke with criminal defence lawyer Riali Johannesson to find out.

Are you required to tell the OPP where you’re going?

According to Johannesson, if pulled over by an OPP officer, you are not required to tell them where you’re going or where you’re coming from. But she adds that heading to your cottage does increase the risk of a traffic stop, complaint, or other police interaction that could lead to a ticket being issued for breaching stay-at-home orders.

“Current enforcement is complaint-driven or incidental to other police investigation,” she says. “If there is an influx of cottagers and local complaints, I would expect local enforcement to be ramped up quickly.”

What information are you required to give an OPP officer?

If an OPP officer does pull you over, Johannesson says the only information you are required to give them is your driver’s licence, your vehicle registration, and proof of insurance for the vehicle. You are also obliged to give your correct name. “It is a criminal offence not to do so,” she says.

Do the OPP need a reason to pull you over?

As OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said, the police will not be pulling you over for a random spot check. Johannesson corroborates this, saying they must give you a reason for why they pulled you over.

“But this isn’t limited to criminal or Highway Traffic Act (HTA) offences,” she says. “It could be for the purpose of ‘general traffic enforcement’ or a random sobriety check under the HTA.” Meaning officers are working with broad definitions in terms of reasons to pull you over.

How should you respond to an officer if you are pulled over?

“Be unfailingly polite,” Johannesson says. Despite not being required to tell the officer where you’re going, Johannesson recommends having a clear and concise reason for why you are outside your residence—and en route to your cottage—during a stay-home order.

“This is precisely the same conversation that racialized parents in Toronto have been having with their kids since forever,” she says. “They ask a lawyer: ‘What do I say when the police stop me?’ And now it’s hitting the cottagers in a different way because these police stops are affecting their daily lives. Many people aren’t used to having to pay attention to government regulations on a daily basis. So, when it’s on them all of a sudden, it’s a very scary thing, the realization.”

Johannesson’s final piece of advice if you are pulled over: “Err on the side of caution, not the side of prosecution.”


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