A Sarnia realtor is allegedly taking a stand against border-crossing rules that were in place amid the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic by giving the court the silent treatment.
But that stand is getting costly.
Donna Ford, 52, recently has been convicted of six charges of failing to comply with an order under the Quarantine Act linked to four incidents at the Blue Water Bridge between July 2021 and February 2022. The charges include showing up at the Sarnia-area border from Michigan without a pre-arrival PCR test, not filling out the ArriveCAN app, and refusing to wear a face mask while around Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers.
Federal and provincial emergency response legislation on international travel from 2020 to 2022 changed regularly, causing confusion and no longer having effect, but charges were laid when it was still being processed. Ford, despite being a no-show in court, has been found guilty six times this year and fined a total of $21,500.
Had Lambton County’s municipal prosecutor gotten her way, the financial penalties would’ve added up to $30,000.
“Her absence, I think, is a stand. A silent one, but a stand, and in my view that’s not the way to go about it,” Jodi Burness, Lambton County’s municipal prosecutor, said last month to justice of the peace Helen Gale in Sarnia’s provincial offenses court. “The message needs to be sent.”
Ford, who hasn’t come to court or sent a representative, was convicted of two charges last week and one in January under a section of the Provincial Offenses Act, in which a defendant is considered not to be disputing the charge when they fail to appear at their trial. Those fines added up to $15,000.
The licensed realtor, according to the Real Estate Council of Ontario, was found guilty again last month of three more charges linked to a single trip across the bridge on Feb. 17, 2022, following an ex parte trial, a trial that’s been previously set and goes ahead even if the accused doesn’t attend. Not guilty please were automatically entered, but Gale found Ford guilty after hearing the testimony of two CBSA officers.
“It is unfortunate that Ms. Ford doesn’t attend court, but that is her prerogative,” Gale said. “However, this court has no choice but to consider the evidence on its face.”
The evidence came from border officer Luis Felipe Ramirez Perez, who was working in a primary inspection booth around 6 pm that day when Ford and her daughter pulled up in a white Ford Fusion. The women handed over their passports, then Ramirez Perez asked about the pre-arrival tests, the app, and for them to wear masks while talking to him.
“I was told by the traveler that she did not do any of that,” he tested.
Ramirez Perez referred them to secondary, which is where three other border officers, including Colin Foote, were stationed. Foote greeted the Fords as they got out of the car and asked them how their trip was.
“The travelers did not respond,” he recalled.
The trio of officers searched the car and found nothing of concern, so Foote asked Ford why he didn’t get the pre-arrival test.
“They both respondents that they did not need one because they were Canadian,” he said.
Then, he asked her why she didn’t fill out the app.
“They said they didn’t have to,” he tested.
Finally, Foote asked if they’d put on masks for public-health purposes.
“And they said they would not,” he said.
The women were permitted to leave following the approximately 10-minute search and interview, but they were both issued tickets for the trio of alleged infractions.
“The elements of the offense have been established in evidence,” Gale said at the end of Donna Ford’s ex parte trial. “Convictions will be registered accordingly for counts one, two and three.”
Burness asked Gale to impose the set fine of $5,000 for each of the three convictions – the maximum is $750,000 and six months’ jail time, she noted – for a total of $15,000. Gale imposed the set fine for the lack of a test, but opted to lower the other two fines to $1,000 and $500.
“They feel very strongly about their right to do what they’re going to do,” Gale said. “I think as a court, though, I have an obligation to try and strike a balance.”
She also added the legislation was in effect at the time for the protection of all Canadians.
“It was very clear what the expectations were,” she said.
The court has not heard details about the other three incidents on July 22, 2021, Aug. 3, 2021, and Nov. 5, 2021.
Ford has not responded to multiple requests for comments about convictions and fines.
Ford’s daughter, Jasmine Ford, is also facing nearly 30 charges under the same legislation, including the same three charges from Feb. 17, 2022, but they haven’t been tested in court. All her charges appeared on Thursday’s docket, but were advised to later this summer at the request of a paralegal representing her.
At least three other people have been hit recently with $5,000 fines for failing to show up for their trials in Sarnia courtrooms on the same charges. A couple from the small Oxford County community of Otterville were fined $10,000 in total while a senior with ties to Southwestern Ontario was hit with a $5,000 fine.