By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Police in cities across Ontario, Canada's most populous province, on Saturday refused to make random stops greenlighted by the provincial government seeking to impose a stay-at-home order amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Toronto, the country's largest city, Ottawa, Hamilton, Windsor and at least 19 other municipal police forces said they would not conduct random vehicle or individual stops though they had been given the power to do so.
"The Toronto Police Service will continue to engage, educate and enforce, but we will not be doing random stops of people or cars," the force said on Twitter. Mayor John Tory supported the move.
Ontario, home to 38% of Canada's population, had 4,362 new infections on Saturday after a record of 4,812 cases on Friday, and projections indicate the virus could spike to 10,000 per day in June without more strict health restrictions.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, increasingly under fire for mishandling the province's pandemic response, on Friday gave police the authority to stop anyone driving or walking to ask them to explain their reason for leaving home, and ticket them if in breach of the rules.
Steven Del Duca, the opposition Liberal Party leader in Ontario, said Ford was imposing "martial law" and that the move was a "dangerous attack on racialized Ontarians" who would be unfairly targeted.
The expanded police powers risk causing "a rash of racial profiling and overbroad police powers, presuming everyone outside guilty until proven otherwise," Canada's Civil Liberties Association said.
Ford also said he would block non-essential travel from neighboring provinces from Monday. Ontario's Provincial Police on Saturday said they were preparing to enforce that order.
In recent weeks, Ontario has closed schools, restaurants, limited in-store shopping, and canceled elective surgeries as a surge of admissions threatened to overwhelm hospitals. On Friday it also shut down some construction work, but not warehouses or factories.
Critics say Ford abandoned a previous stay-at-home order too soon, allowing current spike in cases that is putting hospitals under pressure. On Friday, Ford blamed the federal government for the third wave, saying it had been too slow to ramp up vaccinations and too lenient at the borders.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Alistair Bell)