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'Time is up': John Tory warns of fines up to $5K for people who gather at Toronto parks, playgrounds

Last Updated Mar 31, 2020 at 10:03 am EDT

Sign posted telling residents that city parks, playgounds and amenities are closed due to COVID-19. (FILE/CityNews)

Toronto Mayor John Tory said “time is up” for people who continue to congregate at city parks, warning that fines ranging from $750 to $5000 will start being doled out with regularity until they “get the message.”

Tory said the nice weather over the weekend prompted some to hop fences and locked gates to play soccer and use fitness stations at city green spaces that were closed to stem the spread of COVID-19.

He also noted large numbers of people at Trinity Bellwoods Park, and at the city’s beaches, calling the behaviour “irresponsible and insensitive.”

A stern-looking Tory said city parks staff, along with Toronto police and bylaw officers, were blitzing “hot spots” on Monday, looking for offenders.

He also bemoaned the waste of money as city staff had to once again cordon off green spaces after some citizens tore down signs and caution tape and broke locks to access shuttered amenities.

Tory admitted is was a “tough decision, but it was the right decision” to close many city playgrounds and park amenities, stressing that it was made in consultation with medical professionals to “save lives.”

Many weighed in online with their thoughts on people flouting social distancing rules

Toronto Fire Chief, Matthew Pegg broke down some of the numbers so far, reiterating that officials were ready to hand out more fines in the future.

“We are continuing to respond to concerns about people using parks amenities and continuing to gather in parks. The set fine for this offence is $750 with a maximum fine of $5000.”

“Police are working with park staff right now … charges have been laid and will continue to be laid if this behaviour continues.”

Pegg said that since March 24, the city has received 385 complaints relating to physical distancing at city parks. Staff has responded to 197 complaints and issued 19 notices for failure to comply.

Pegg also reminded the public to call 311, not 911, if you have concerns about people gathering.

Premier Doug Ford also expressed his displeasure about the number of people out and about over the weekend, calling it “unacceptable.”

“We need every person in this province to take a hard look at their habits. Because as I’ve always said, every option is on the table and we are prepared to take further action if we do not see the spread of this virus (going down) in the coming days.”

When asked what measures he was specifically referring to in terms of enforcing social distancing and why something like a mandatory stay-at-home-order has not been issued yet, Ford said the province was following advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the province’s command table and will take their lead when it comes to those measures.

“Everything is on the table, absolutely everything,” he reiterated. “It’s an absolute priority that we make sure, that when possible, people stay at home.”

Help for the homeless

Mayor Tory said the city has secured contracts with five hotels to help house people experiencing homelessness, and said vacant Toronto Community Housing units are also being utilized.

Tory added that a further five hotels are “in the process of being secured.”

The Toronto mayor also touted a new site where people without homes who are infected with COVID-19 can access and receive care.

“We are opening this week a site for the homeless who test positive for COVID-19 so that they can recover,” he said.

Tory says it’s the first facility of its kind in Canada.