In an era of new emergency powers intended to fight a pandemic, Canadian police are turning to a tried-and-true criminal charge: fraud under $5,000.
Police in Southern Ontario cities laid that charge in two COVID-19-related cases this week, one that sparked community panic over the spread of the new coronavirus and the other trying to capitalize on that fear.
The first case involves a teenaged McDonald’s employee in Hamilton who is accused of trying to get out of work by giving her manager a fake doctor’s note – one saying that she had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The fallout was significant. The restaurant shut down for days as professional cleaning crews sanitized it. Fear spread from co-workers, to customers and then rippled out to the wider public.
While a faked doctor’s note would not normally result in criminal charges, in this case "it came down to impact on the community,” said Hamilton Police Service spokeswoman Constable Lorraine Edwards.
She said she would not speculate about why the 18-year-old – who also faces mischief and forgery charges – allegedly acted as she did. A court date is scheduled for mid-May.
The second case involves a 43-year-old Toronto man who is accused of trying to ship “prohibited” home-testing kits for COVID-19 to the United States. “There are no legitimate ‘home test kits’ available,” the Toronto Police Service said in a statement announcing the arrest.
Only qualified medical professionals and equipment can tell people whether they have the disease, and authorities say they are cracking down.
In early March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a bulletin saying it would pursue all available sanctions against anyone caught selling non-approved testing kits.
On Friday, the federal government issued its own bulletin: “Health Canada has received reports about health products that make false or misleading claims related to COVID-19,” it said, adding that the department has “issued letters to multiple companies directing them to immediately remove these claims from their websites and advertising materials.”
U.S. and Canadian investigators teamed up to target the Toronto man this week after a parcel was seized at the border by American agents. Inside were 25 testing kits being shipped from Canada. Police say several similar packages got through customs previously.
The 43-year-old was arrested in East Toronto and is to appear in court in late May.
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