It was game, set, match for the Crown this week after a North Vancouver provincial court judge ruled former tennis great Grant Connell failed to lob a disputed COVID-19 ticket out of the court.
Connell was in court this week to dispute a $2,300 ticket handed out in May for hosting a “non-compliant” gathering at his home on Southridge Avenue in West Vancouver, contrary to the Protective Measures COVID-19 Order issued by B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth under the Emergency Program Act.
West Vancouver police issued the ticket May 15, 2021, after receiving an anonymous complaint about a loud party at Connell's house.
At the time, a provincial order was in place to ban private gatherings of over 10 people.
In court, a West Vancouver police officer said he went to the house just after midnight, after getting an anonymous report of a loud party. West Vancouver Police Const. Brock Harrington said he saw a number of cars parked in the driveway and outside the home, several people inside the home and between 25 and 30 young adults in the backyard, having a party.
Harrington said he spoke with Connell at the front door – who he recognized as a former tennis star and local real estate agent – and handed him a $2,300 ticket as the homeowner for violating the order on hosting or organizing gatherings.
On Tuesday, Connell returned the serve in court.
Connell disputed the officer’s version of events, saying there were cars parked in the neighbourhood, but at least four of them were his. He told the judge he has a family of seven, including his five children who range in age from teen to young adult, and they had only six unrelated guests over that night, making sure there were only 10 people in the backyard at one time.
“The numbers the constable is referring to aren’t reality,” he said.
Connell added as someone who spent four months in hospital when he had a stroke just as the first wave of COVID hit in 2020, “I’m very aware of COVID restrictions and I don’t take it flippantly at all.”
In upholding the ticket, provincial court Judge Patrick Chen said it was difficult to reconcile the two versions of how many people were present that night. “In my view, there’s a great difference between 10 people and 25 to 30 people,” he said.
Chen added it’s likely Connell wasn’t observing the backyard party at the same time as the police officer because for the most part, Connell was upstairs inside the house while the party took place outside.
The judge said it was “extremely unlikely” that the police officer would mistake 10 people for 25 or 30.
“I find the more reliable evidence is there were well over 10 people. Whether that was 25, 30 or 20, I’m not satisfied there were 10,” he said.
Connell was given to the end of March to pay the fine.
Police on the North Shore and nearby communities including Whistler have handed out a number of tickets for "non-compliant gatherings" since the beginning of the pandemic. Several people are disputing those tickets in court.