A North Vancouver provincial court judge has decided that a $2,300 fine will be enforced against a Squamish resident accused of violating COVID-19 gathering restrictions.
On March 24, Judge Lyndsay Smith ruled that the fine against Elena Darlene Pollard Butler was deemed not to be disputed.
The alleged offence occurred on Dec. 13, 2020, in Squamish, and was issued for contravention of the gatherings and events order. At the time, the provincial health officer had imposed restrictions on gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19.
At the hearing on March 24, the court phoned Butler during the proceeding and told her she had until 11:30 a.m. to appear. She had been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. but was not present. Butler replied that she and her family were feeling unwell and could not attend.
"I cannot be in court right now," said Butler over the phone. "I have two sick kids. I emailed you guys about it last night."
However, court officials noted that Butler had previously asked the courts to defer the matter, which the courts had agreed to do.
At this point, officials said the matter should not be delayed any further.
"So here's the thing Ms. Butler," said Smith. "This is the third trial date that's been set. The Crown's ready to go. They have two witnesses here…I'm calling you because the Crown has advised me that they're going to proceed in your absence, given that you aren't here. And this is the third trial date that you've missed, absent medical evidence, and what I mean by that is evidence that doesn't just reflect self-reporting."
The judge said she was concerned that Butler was "frustrating the court's process."
The Crown prosecutor, Kevin Masse, said the defendant appeared to be giving contradicting information.
"[She] explained to officers that COVID-19 is a government strategy to control everybody and that it never existed. And that's been her position from when she was given this ticket. It's interesting today that she thinks she has COVID now," he said.
Butler never explicitly said she had COVID-19 during the call with the judge but said she was unwell and was heard repeatedly coughing.
"This is not right," Butler said during the call.
She did not appear before the courts by 11:30 a.m. and the proceedings went ahead.
As a result, the judge decided that the $2,300 fine against Butler would stand.
In response to a request from The Squamish Chief, Squamish RCMP said it could not give statistics or further details regarding the extent of COVID-19 ticketing in town.
"Over the course of the last couple of years, Squamish RCMP encouraged more voluntary compliance rather than enforcement, as compared to other municipalities," wrote Cpl. Ashley Mackay in an email.
The province does not keep regional data for COVID-19 gathering contravention and was unable to supply details specific to Squamish. However, the Ministry of Public Safety released a statement with provincewide numbers.
According to the statement, between Aug. 21, 2020, and Mar. 25, 2022, 2,373 violation tickets were issued by police and compliance and enforcement officers.
This included 447 tickets, each $2,300, to owners or organizers contravening the PHO's order on gatherings and events, totalling $1.03 million.
There were also 65 violation tickets, each $2,300, for contravention of the PHO food and liquor serving premises order, totalling $149,500.
Over 1,700 tickets, each $230, were given to people failing to comply with provincial orders, adding up to more than $400,000.
More than 100 tickets, each $575, were issued to people promoting or attending a non-compliant event, totalling more than $62,000.
Eight $575 tickets were given to people who failed to comply with travel restrictions, adding up to $4,600.
There was one $230 ticket issued for failing to stop at a road check.
Finally, 256 violation tickets were given to those in contravention of the Federal Quarantine Act, totalling about $736,000.