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Heavier mask fines may not be the answer: criminologist

Last Updated Sep 12, 2020 at 6:46 pm EST

MONTREAL (CITYNEWS) – While many Quebecers welcome heavier penalties as the number of COVID-19 cases rise, researchers say the province’s newest mask fines are unlikely to deter people from breaking the rules.

Starting Saturday, police can hand out tickets ranging between $400 and $6,000 for those who don’t have a face covering in indoor public spaces or on public transit.

But just how effective are fines?

“As criminologists and people looking into this, we’ve determined that there’s actually no deterrence factor in term of fines,” said Alexander McClelland, a criminology researcher at Carleton University. “So we don’t actually know if they work.

“Fines in relation to speeding or drunk driving, that kind of thing, they don’t discourage people from doing that.”

The province announced its intention to introduce fines earlier this week, with a ministerial decree being adopted Friday. The decree specifies that a face covering is understood as a “mask or tightly fitting cloth that covers the nose and the mouth.”

The fines will be similar to fines issued to business owners when the province brought in mandatory masks for indoor spaces in July.

“What we need is more support socially for people,” said McClelland. “We need to check in with people and understand why someone isn’t wearing a mask. Has the state been bad at communicating why we need to take care of each other?

“Giving someone a $1,000 fine isn’t going to help that person.”

While health experts have pushed for enforcement of public-health rules, some believe police fines could target marginalized groups.

“It’s incumbent upon the police to fully investigate, not overreact and use their professionalism and common sense,” said Alain Babineau of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations. “Enforcement is never the preferred approach, but at some point in time you have to do something or else we’ll be back in confinement.”

Face coverings have been mandatory on public transit and in indoor public spaces across the province since July, but enforcement in indoor public spaces was initially left to business owners.

With files from The Canadian Press.