B.C. woman found guilty of assault after coughing at grocery store employee in early days of pandemic | CBC News

A woman who coughed at a Vancouver Island grocery store employee during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic has been found guilty of assault by a judge in British Columbia.

The incident occurred at a Save On Foods in Campbell River, B.C., on April 24, 2020, when social-distancing measures had been mandated by provincial public health officials. 

Judge Barbara Flewelling found Kimberly Woolman guilty of two counts of assault: one for the coughing incident, and the other for ramming a shopping cart into the store’s assistant manager. Woolman was also found guilty of causing a disturbance.

In her summary of events, Flewelling said Woolman approached employee Jacqueline Poulton and “aggressively asked” why an area of the store was sectioned off.

Poulton told Woolman it was store policy in order to comply with public health orders. When Woolman said she would not obey the rules, Poulton said she asked her to leave the store.

Rather than exit, Woolman walked down an aisle to the back of the store screaming at Poulton that COVID was fake.

Poulton said she was maintaining social distancing of two metres behind Woolman when Woolman suddenly stopped, shortening the distance between them by about half, and forcibly coughed twice at Poulton’s face.

People line up outside a grocery store two metres apart.
Customers practise social distancing outside a Metro Vancouver grocery store in March 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Flewelling, who reviewed video footage of the incident, ruled Woolman was guilty of assault based on public health concerns that respiratory droplets carried the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“I accept the evidence of Ms. Poulton and conclude that Ms. Woolman stepped or leaned toward Ms. Poulton and deliberately coughed at or on her,” wrote Flewelling in her ruling.

The judge concluded that Woolman’s cough was deliberate and intentional and, under the Criminal Code of Canada, considered assault. 

2nd assault

It was the first of two assault charges Flewelling found Woolman guilty of that day.

After Poulton was coughed on, she said she asked Woolman to leave again. Instead, Woolman, continued to yell that COVID was not real and drew the attention of other employees who came to assist Poulton, including assistant manager Gord Dawson.

At this point, according to the judge’s summary of events, Woolman was at the front of the store with unpaid merchandise in her cart and, when Dawson stepped in front of it to stop her from walking out with it, she rammed it into him.

Flewelling, who made her decision based on evidence from witnesses and video footage, ruled Woolman also assaulted Dawson.

Woolman eventually left the store. She later sought to have charges brought against her dismissed, claiming she had been harassed and confined by store employees. 

Poutlon testified she was shaken and concerned after Woolman coughed on her, but monitored herself for symptoms of COVID-19 and returned to work the next day.

Woolman is scheduled to appear for sentencing at court in Campbell River on Tuesday. 

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