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B.C. woman given suspended sentence for coughing in grocery clerk's face during pandemic

"It was the height of selfishness and self-entitlement," the judge said.
COVID mask
Masks and social distancing were among tools mandated to protect the spread of COVID-19 in 2020.

A B.C. woman found guilty of assault for coughing in a grocery clerk's face during the COVID-19 pandemic's early days has been given a suspended sentence and 18 months’ probation.

On July 19, Campbell River Provincial Court Judge Barbara Flewelling found Kimberly Woolman guilty of causing a disturbance at a Save-On-Foods in Campbell River; assault of Jacqueline Poulton by forcibly and deliberately coughing in the direction of her face; and assault of Gordon Dawson for deliberately shoving her shopping cart into him. 

The convictions stemmed from an April 24, 2020 incident.

Flewelling called Woolman’s behaviour that day aggressive and rude.

“She displayed an astounding level of selfishness as she disregarded the entreaties of Ms. Poulton to simply agree to follow social distancing guidelines,” Flewelling said. 

“Ms. Woolman was of the view that she was in the right to insist that she did not have to follow the store guidelines which had been put in place to comply with public health orders to slow the transmission and spread of COVID-19 between people,” the judge said.

Flewelling noted five witnesses from the store testified they had to respond to Woolman’s refusal to follow the Save-On-Foods store policy requiring all people to maintain a distance of six feet, her refusal to immediately leave the store, and her continuous loud invective that COVID-19 was fake. 

The judge said she accepted Poulton’s evidence that she was asking Woolman to leave the store.

“Ms. Woolman stopped abruptly, turned to face Ms. Poulton who was then about three feet away, leaned toward her and forcibly coughed in the direction of Ms. Poulton’s face, twice,” Flewelling said.

Dawson asked Woolman to leave a shopping cart because it had unpaid grocery items in it. Court heard she refused and would not let go of the cart, saying she needed it to get to her car. 

“An empty cart was offered but Ms. Woolman refused that offer and while Mr. Dawson was standing in front of the grocery cart, she forcibly pushed the cart into him and rocked it back and forth trying to get him to let go,” Flewelling said.

The judge said it would have been very simple and easy for Woolman to comply “with the reasonable and lawful request" to adhere to social distancing. 

“Instead, she embarked on a tirade about her belief that COVID-19 was not real and was fake,” the judge said. “While she is entitled to have her own beliefs about COVID-19, she was not entitled to insist that she did not have to follow rules that were put in place by the provincial health officer to protect people during a pandemic and, at a time, when much was still unknown about the virus. 

“It was the height of selfishness and self-entitlement,” Flewelling said.

The Crown asked that Woolman be fined $1,000 and given 18 months’ probation with minimal conditions.