N.S. privacy lawyer says new regulations enforced by province need to be clearer

For Nova Scotians, social distancing and self-isolating are no longer recommendations from the government after a state of emergency was declared on Sunday.

The government also announced that under the health protection act, citizens must follow regulations set out by the medical officer’s order. Anyone found breaking the new regulations can be fined.

The state of emergency declaration included new rules, which prohibits anyone from travelling to any provincial and municipal park and beach. 

Moreover, effective as of 6:00 a.m. on Monday, individuals entering the province will be checked at the border.

During this time, police will have the authority to enforce these new rules, and are allowed to issue fines to those who break them. The province has said the fine is $1,000 for individuals and $7,500 for businesses.

At the press conference on Sunday, McNeil also said that police could enforce rules about social distancing and self-isolation.

The province’s website states there are to be “no social gatherings of more than five people” and that “any workplace or business that is not deemed essential (or not already required to be closed) can remain open as long as a two-metre (6 foot) distance can be maintained.”

But Privacy Lawyer David Fraser says there is no order available to the public to explain those rules.

“I’m concerned in it as far as the rule of law is concerned,” said Fraser. “So if the police are being given the power to enforce these orders, that should only happen when the public has access to those orders and understands what exactly is contained in them, otherwise police are just enforcing a press release.”

While Fraser says he doesn’t disagree with any of the new regulations, he says both police and citizens should have a clear idea of what is expected.

“People need to have access to the law and understand what the law is and what’s the full extent of state powers, but particularly in a time when police and health authorities have been given extraordinary powers. We need to know exactly what those are,” said Fraser.

The province did not respond to Global’s request for more information, but Police say they are getting their direction from the province, and the Minister of Justice.

“It’s been a constant state of updating,” said Constable John MacLeod.

“As we receive new information we are passing that along to our officers. That information is being sent along through our daily updates and daily emails.”

MacLeod says that this is a learning curve for police as well as residents, and that currently their efforts are focused on education rather than enforcement.

While people can report individuals or businesses not following the rules, the province is recommending that people don’t jump to reporting straight away, and try to speak with the individuals or businesses first.

If individuals or businesses continue to not comply with rules, then residents are told to report to police’s non-emergency line. Reports should not be made by calling 911.

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