Municipalities across the Greater Toronto Area are ramping up enforcement of coronavirus emergency measures.
The measures have forced the closure of certain “non-essential” businesses and services, mandated social distancing and closed many public areas, including parks.
The province said it is up to municipal authorities to enforce these rules — and the initial fine for breaking an emergency order is up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison or $10,000,000 for a corporation.
People are also compelled to identify themselves under the emergency act. If you fail to identify yourself correctly, you can face an additional fine of $750 for failure to comply or $1,000 for obstruction.
The City of Toronto conducted an enforcement blitz of these measures this past weekend after video and photos surfaced showing people flocking to public parks to enjoy the warm temperatures.
“Generally speaking, our enforcement team found that there was a good understanding of the requirements by those out in the parks and squares,” said Matthew Pegg, fire chief and general manager of emergency management on Monday. “For those who are complying with the orders and by-laws relating to social distancing, thank you.”
However, Pegg said there were some issues of non-compliance and some fines were issued.
“The enforcement team initiated proactive conversations with those people who were not social distancing, those who were in zones that were prohibited, and those who were using park amenities that are not permitted under by-law or provincial order,” he said.
He said people were observed by officers using skateboard parks and families using closed playground structures. He added that large groups of people were also seen gathered at shopping plazas.
Pegg said the Toronto Police Service issued 26 tickets and 976 people were cautioned over the weekend. In addition to those tickets, he said parking enforcement issued 55 parking tickets and two cars were towed.
Pegg added that the city’s municipal licensing and standards officers responded to 346 complaints regarding gatherings in parks. He said three tickets and three written cautions were issued.
“Approximately 2,480 people were spoken to over the weekend and were educated regarding the closure of park amenities and physical distancing, including 780 on Saturday and 1,700 on Sunday,” Pegg said.
Certain city parks were the focus of many of the complaints, including Bluffer’s Park which saw around 800 vehicles turned away. High Park was also another hotspot, the city said, seeing around 140 vehicles turned away on Saturday.
Toronto Public Health enforces non-essential business closures
In addition to the enforcement of social distancing rules, Pegg said Toronto Public Health was busy enforcing the province’s state of emergency order mandating the closure of non-essential businesses.
“Since March 24, Toronto Public Health has attended 509 bars and restaurants that were identified as being non-compliant: 173 of these have been closed, and 21 warning letters were issued for premises found to be non-compliant with the dine-in prohibition,” he said.
Pegg said Public Health also visited 124 personal service businesses such as nail salons and hairdressers. He said 120 were closed and four warning letters were issued.
Brampton, Durham region enforcing the emergency decree
Toronto wasn’t the only municipality enforcing the province’s emergency measures this past week.
The City of Brampton said they have laid eight charges since April 1.
“One charge related to a non-essential business operating and seven related to gatherings and physical distancing,” said Natalie Stogdill, senior advisor, public relations with the city.
Fines for failing to comply range $500 to $100,000, the city said.
Meanwhile, on the east side of the GTA, a spokesperson for Durham Region said they haven’t written any tickets yet.
“So far, we have taken an educational approach to enforcing the emergency act,” said Dave Selby, Durham Region corporate communications. “We have been stopping people and talking to a few businesses about the fines associated with the order.”
Selby said they don’t have any enforcement numbers available yet, but said they will ticket people and businesses as a “next step.”
The region’s police service did have some numbers available, however, reporting they had received over 210 complaints related to the emergency measures act.
“Most of these calls had been about non-essential business openings, but the warmer weather has sparked an increase in social-gathering complaints,” Durham police said in a news release on April 3.