New Brunswick Police have arrested a man for assault after he allegedly coughed in a person’s face during a dispute about coronavirus.
At around 11:30 a.m. Thursday, police in New Brunswick were called to a home in Rothesay, a small town about half an hour north of Saint John, for a “threat call.”
“The occupants there were in a dispute over two people who were not properly self-isolating after recent international travel,” said a press release from the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force. A man was arrested with assault for “purposely coughing in someone’s face while feeling ill.” He was also arrested for uttering threats, according to police.
Police also notified “the (New Brunswick) non-compliance branch.” VICE has asked Kennebecasis Regional Police Force for comment but has yet to hear back.
Police went on to recommend that people call a New Brunswick government snitch line if they suspect someone isn’t properly self-isolating after travel. The line, which also allows callers to ask questions about the virus, has been in place since the beginning of the week. Asking community members to tell on each other in a time of panic may not be the best plan, however.
“Snitch lines have proven historically to be very divisive and damaging to community cohesion,” said Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt. “It is a practice that can lead to wasteful use of resources and it's a practice that could be open to abuse by members in the community.” He said people could use the line as a way to air grievances or settle scores.
Spratt said the government should focus on public education, “rather than tasking community members to engage in an Orwellian practice of becoming the eyes and ears of the state.”
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has urged people to use the line and indicated that those not complying with self-isolation and quarantine orders could face some sort of unspecified penalty.
"I think we need to have everybody thinking about how we can deliver the results we want, and that is to maintain this outbreak at a level that we can manage it within our healthcare system,” Higgs said.
Earlier this week, a 52-year-old woman in Newfoundland was arrested twice for allegedly going outside and not following the mandated two-week self-quarantine restriction for people who enter the province. She was first arrested on Tuesday and forced to spend a night in custody. After being released, she was arrested again at a curling club.
In Hamilton a young woman was arrested for allegedly faking a coronavirus diagnosis to get out of work. She faces charges of mischief over $5,000, fraud under $5,000, using a forged document and making a forged document. The feigned illness prompted the store to temporarily close and other workers who came into contact with her home for a two-week quarantine.
It’s unclear how effective these deterrents have been. However, Spratt said there are potential health risks associated with jailing people who have symptoms and don't self-quarantine.
“It shifts some of the risks in from the larger community onto a very vulnerable community in jail,” said Spratt. “We absolutely should not be jailing people who we think have the risk of spreading COVID-19.”
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