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Police to start 'zero tolerance' social distancing enforcement

Last Updated Apr 11, 2020 at 4:37 pm EDT

A mounted police officer on duty is seen at a trail in Toronto, Canada, April 4, 2020. Providing public education and enforcing physical distancing measures, the Toronto Police Service took part in an enforcement blitz on Saturday in busy parks and areas to reduce the spread of COVID-19. (Xinhua/Zou Zheng via Getty Images)

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said starting Saturday, there will be a ‘zero tolerance’ policy when it comes to people violating physical distancing measures in parks and public squares.

“The public is pretty aware of what we’re asking for when it deals with physical distancing,” said Saunders. “So what we’re going to be doing is moving towards a zero-tolerance with some common sense factors to it, effective today.”

The move comes after Mayor John Tory issued a letter to the police chief and Carleton Grant, the executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards, calling on them to issue more tickets as part of stricter enforcement of the social distancing measures.

“The time has come for stricter enforcement and more tickets,” said Tory. “We are facing a deadly virus – tragically it has already claimed the lives of 77 Toronto residents – and we need people to realize as quickly as possible what they need to do to stay healthy.”

Tory says they continue to receive reports of everything from bonfires on the beach to hanging out in groups in parking lots to playing pickup sports in closed areas.

Saunders said as of April 10th, they have cautioned just over 2,500 people, handed out seven tickets for provincial and city by-law infractions, written 88 parking tags and towed four vehicles. He adds that with the warm weather approaching if they don’t start to do something now “we’re going to have a problem.”

“Health is the number one issue of why we’re doing this,” said Saunders. “What we’ve noticed is when it gets extremely warm or nice, the social distancing rule is breached quite a bit more.”

“We have to do everything we can to make the message loud and clear.”

That message will include a $1,000 fine for any two people who do not live together who fail to keep two metres apart in a park or public square. That fine could escalate to up to $5,000 upon conviction.

“Our mission is not to issue tickets but we’re at the point now where we have educated,” explained Saunders. “I think as more people know and have a full, comprehensive understanding, the people that are breaching are going to be doing it more willfully than not knowing.”

“If a 3-year-old runs into another family’s physical distancing, we’re not going to start laying out tickets there. The ones that are deliberately breaching, they’ll definitely be charged.”

Saunders noted this is different than people removing or tearing down barricades that have been put up.

“That becomes a criminal offence. That is a different stratosphere,” he said. “That will be public mischief and you’ll be speaking at a much higher level than a provincial offences ticket.”

Saunders said the current blitz will continue until April 13, at which time there will be a review to determine if their efforts need to be extended.