Today, the Ottawa Citizen published the following op-ed from our student coordinator, Portia Larlee:

As the situation surrounding the COVID-19 global pandemic changes by the hour, several patterns are becoming clear. Across the world, governments and authorities are postponing and suspending aspects of normal life, so we can come together to fight this pandemic.

In Ottawa, officers ticketing homeless people and people who live in poverty are part of normal life. The Ottawa Police and OC Transpo special constables say there are no changes to this normal procedure.

The Ticket Defence Program offers representation in Provincial Offences Court for those wishing to contest tickets for poverty-related offences. We regularly see panhandling tickets issued under the Safe Streets Act, public intoxication tickets issued under the Liquor Licence Act, and tickets for illegally entering private spaces under the Trespass to Property Act.

We are calling on the Ottawa Police and OC Transpo to rise to the challenge of this moment, and look after those in our community who live in shelters and on the street by no longer issuing tickets that criminalize poverty.

Most of our clients are Indigenous. Many have mental illness and are suffering from addiction. Some of our clients are facing thousands of dollars in outstanding provincial fines. Our clients are barely able to meet their basic needs under normal circumstances. Provincial fines are an added burden to individuals already leading extremely difficult lives.

The inability to pay these provincial fines can affect a person’s credit rating, making it difficult to get a bank account or credit card, rent an apartment, or renew a driver’s licence. The tickets are unnecessary and punitive in normal times, and even more so in the teeth of a global pandemic.

In New York, Miami, Quebec and Ontario, evictions have been suspended. New York City and Los Angeles have released prisoners to stop the spread of COVID-19. Detroit has stopped cutting off people’s water for non-payment. Telecommunications companies across Canada have removed or modified their data caps. Here in Ottawa, bylaw officers will not ticket people for parking on residential streets past normal hours. OC Transpo has scrapped cash bus fares to protect its drivers. In our legal clinic, we often see tickets for failure to produce payment on Ottawa’s buses.

These are unbelievable and extraordinary times, and we simply must look after each other. So please, Ottawa Police and special constables, stop ticketing homeless people and people who live in poverty.

Portia Larlee is the Ticket Defence Program Student Coordinator. The Ticket Defence Program is a University of Ottawa affiliated free legal clinic for people who are homeless and live in poverty. It is a network of law students, lawyers, and Ottawa community members. @TDPOttawa.

The TDP calls on the Ottawa Police Service and OC Transpo to stop ticketing for poverty-related offences during the COVID-19 crisis.

If you receive a ticket, please contact us on our website or [email protected] or 613-858-1872 to speak with one of our lawyers. All in-person clinics and meetings are suspended, but we will continue to provide services remotely.