Halifax police are defending their ticketing of Palestinian solidarity protesters Saturday, saying the measures were needed to protect the health of the wider community.
In a news release Monday, the police service refers to the 500-person car rally to protest Israel's treatment of Palestinians as "illegal," the same term it uses to describe a protest Saturday on the city's Citadel Hill of about 50 people opposed to some public health restrictions.
Organizers have said they informed police in advance of what was billed as a "COVID-safe" pro-Palestinian car rally, and that it occurred in family bubbles and inside cars.
Rana Zaman, a participant in the rally who supports the Palestinian cause, said in an interview Monday that people who participated in the car rally took necessary precautions to avoid spread of the virus. She took exception to police linking the action with an anti-mask demonstration.
"This rally was following protocols, it wasn't the same at all," she said. "The rally was protesting ... human rights violations (by Israel) that resulted in deaths." The procession started in the area of Inglis Street and Tower Road, with about 200 vehicles attending.
Halifax police say they arrested one person in the group who was subsequently issued multiple summary offence tickets for offences under the Health Protection Act, Emergency Management Act and Motor Vehicle Act.
They say a total of 17 summary offence tickets were issued during the solidarity protest, with nine for alleged offences under the Health Protection Act, two for offences under the Emergency Management Act and six for offences under the Motor Vehicle Act.
The release says police contacted organizers of both events in advance to make them aware of the current public health restrictions, including a court order issued on Friday aimed at organizers of the Citadel Hill protest.
Last Friday, Premier Iain Rankin's Liberal government obtained an injunction to stop planned protests in the province. The injunction, granted by Supreme Court of Nova Scotia Justice Scott Norton, prohibits any rally that would contravene the province's public health directives.
It also prohibits organizers from continuing to promote the rallies on social media and authorizes police to ensure compliance with the Health Protection Act.
"Given the serious circumstances we are currently facing with the pandemic, officers took the difficult but necessary actions to protect the community at large," the release said.
The force cites outdoor gathering limits, which are set at "no more than your household ... without social distancing." There is no exemption for demonstrations on the government website.
Under the Health Protection Act, fines can be $2,000 per person.
Asked about the car rally during a news conference Monday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang noted all gatherings are forbidden under the public health order.
“Even people getting together in a group in a parking lot together in cars is technically a gathering. And as we saw, not everybody was in their cars, unfortunately,” he said. “We need to stay in very small groups …. We cannot, right now, have large numbers of people getting together.”
A spokesman for the Halifax police said the chief was unavailable for comment on Monday and that the force couldn't answer further questions by the end of Monday about whether discussions were held in advance with organizers about the Palestinian solidarity rally.
Halifax police said that during the protest on Citadel Hill, they arrested five people who were subsequently released. They issued a total of 11 summary offence tickets, nine for offences under the Health Protection Act and two for offences under the Emergency Management Act.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2021.
— With files from Keith Doucette
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press