Can You Be Criminally Charged for Spreading Coronavirus?

Can You Be Criminally Charged for Spreading Coronavirus?

On behalf of Neuberger & Partners LLP posted in COVID-19, Criminal Defence on Monday March 16, 2020.

What started as an epidemic in China has officially become a worldwide pandemic as of March 11, 2020. The World Health Organization reported the change in category after cases in different continents were reported without direct relation to the origin continent.

Citizens and governments everywhere are concerned about containing the virus and preventing its spread. This issue has become so serious that some are wondering if you can be held legally accountable for spreading the virus.

Joseph Neuberger was recently interviewed on Global News Radio’s The Morning Show with Stafford & Supriya on the topic.

There is currently no Canadian legislation specific to the spreading of COVID-19. However, there is legislation based on other human-to-human transmittable diseases, like HIV.

Essentially, if a person is diagnosed with a virus and knowingly spreads it to another person(s), they may be charged with criminal negligence. If the person(s) they intentionally came in contact with then gets diagnosed with the virus, the person who spread it can be charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm, criminal negligence causing death, or assault.

The situation with NBA player, Rudy Gobert, was not considered criminal. Although his actions (touching all the microphones to mock spreading the virus) were insensitive, he was not aware of his diagnoses at the time.

What about the Torontonian man who claimed to have coronavirus on a plane to Jamaica in February? In this case, the man announced to all passengers that he had recently been to the Chinese city where COVID-19 originated. It sparked immense fear and concern among passengers and crew, and thus forced the plane to make an emergency return to Toronto where he was met by paramedics and police officers.

This man would not be charged with criminal negligence. However, he was charged with mischief and breach of recognizance.

Then there’s the situation of the Seoul church, where 63 per cent of South Korea’s confirmed cases originated from. The crime in question here is the church’s neglect to act when they were instructed on how to prevent the spread of the virus. Church officials prohibited the use of face masks and continued to allow worshippers to pray in close proximity of each other. The legal system in South Korea has decided that the founder of this church could face murder charges.

As you can see from these situations, each case is unique, and each country has its own legislation. In Canada, we have not seen any charges for spreading the coronavirus intentionally. However, it should be understood by all Canadians that intentionally spreading a virus is criminally punishable.

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On behalf of Neuberger & Partners LLP posted in COVID-19 on Tuesday March 17, 2020.

At Neuberger and Partners, we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation and have implemented safety measures to ensure the safety of our clients and staff. Our priority is and always will be the health, well-being and safety of our staff, clients and colleagues.

We have put in place various measures to prevent and minimize the impact of COVID-19:

  • In addition to standard hand-washing habits, our staff are washing hands before and after every client interaction;
  • All individuals entering our office will be required to use our hand sanitizer to ensure the safety of our other clients and staff;
  • Regular disinfecting of our offices, public areas, meeting rooms and board rooms as well as increasing the frequency of disinfection of higher-traffic surface areas;
  • If a lawyer or client who has a scheduled meeting is feeling unwell, they will be strongly encouraged to stay home;
  • For the time being, we will avoid greeting clients and colleagues with our usual handshakes;
  • We will make every effort to ensure our firm will be stocked up with extra tissue and alcohol-based hand sanitizer; and
  • We will monitor and stay informed from the Government of Canada and World Health Organization for facts as they become available. We will ensure all staff and team members are educated on symptoms and are well informed on prevention and best practices.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Will the firm still run if there are closures?

  • We are committed to assisting our clients. We remain open to assist our clients at this time (following aforementioned standards for health and safety). For clients who wish to communicate with our firm virtually, we have the technology for virtual meetings and are able to respond to the needs of our clients in a manner best to protect our staff and clients’ health.

Are staff and lawyers set up to work virtually?

  • All lawyers and staff are set up to work virtually and continue to assist clients and one another remotely. All lawyers are available via telephone, email and virtual video conferencing.

What is the court situation? How will we deal with court closures?

  • At this time, the Superior Court of Justice is closed from March 17, 2020 to June 1, 2020 – unless a judge orders otherwise.
    If you have a March matter, your matter will be postponed to June 2, 2020.
    April matters will be postponed to June 3, 2020 and May matters will be pushed to June 4, 2020.
  • Similarly, the Ontario Court of Justice will be closed for 10 weeks for all out of custody matters in criminal practice court. In custody matters will still be addressed. It is unclear if out of custody matters such as trials or preliminary hearings will continue since the courts have left this decision to the discretion of the judges. However, Bail courts will remain open for the time being.
  • The Court of Appeal for Ontario has suspended all scheduled appeals until April 3, 2020. But we are still able to file materials and apply for urgent appeals to be heard.
  • We will advise clients by email of their next Court date.

How can payments be made?

  • Payments can be made via e-transfer and visa payments can be made over the phone.

If I have to deliver something to my lawyer, how shall I go about it?

  • For clients who wish to drop off documents but do not wish to come in contact with any one at the firm, you are encouraged to drop them off in our mail slot in front of our office.

We will be open and available for any questions, comments or concerns. Please call (416) 364-3111 for any further information.

Stay safe and healthy,

Joseph Neuberger