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Toronto officials condemn crowding and public drinking at popular city park

Last Updated May 24, 2020 at 5:08 pm EDT

A bicycle police officer patrols Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto on Sunday, May 24, 2020. Warm weather and a reduction in COVID-19 restrictions has many looking to the outdoors for relief. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — Police and bylaw officers were out in full force at a popular downtown park in Toronto on Sunday after thousands of people broke physical distancing rules and crowded the space 24 hours earlier.

Officials condemned the gathering on Saturday and reminded residents that people who aren’t from the same household must keep two metres apart under city bylaws during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police Chief Mark Saunders said public drinking was a large part of the problem at Trinity Bellwoods Park, and unruly people were defecating and urinating near people’s homes.

“(Homeowners) certainly didn’t buy to have people defecating in their laneways, in their backyards,” said Saunders.

“If you’re going to be bringing beer here and then utilize someone else’s house as a toilet, then there’s a bit of self entitlement there.”

Saunders pointed out that people in other parks around the city were acting responsibly, and even people in other ends of Trinity Bellwoods Park were keeping their distance.

Even with the increased presence of bylaw officers, city officials said they only issued four tickets at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday. They say their focus remains on educating the community.

Police did not immediately say how many tickets their officers issued.

City spokesperson Brad Ross implored residents to take advantage of the city’s many other parks rather than crowding and drinking together at some of the most popular destinations.

“It became a bit of a party atmosphere frankly, and alcohol was a contributing factor to that,” said Ross.

“There are 1,500 parks in this city, use them please, but please do so responsibly.”

He added that there are no plans to close popular parks like Trinity Bellwoods, and said a recent closure of High Park in the city’s west end was only done because the space’s cherry blossoms attract massive crowds in the spring.

Mayor John Tory had been among city officials visiting the crowds to educate people while also trying to understand why they were using the parks the way they were.

The mayor’s office also responded to some criticism about Tory not properly wearing a mask over his face while talking to residents, in pictures circulated online. The office said Tory tried his best to keep his distance when people got close.

“While there he made significant efforts to maintain physical distance, often asking people to keep their distance from him and moving himself when people came too close,” Don Peat, spokesperson for the mayor, said in a statement.

“We are all getting used to wearing face coverings in public and the Mayor will make sure his mask is on properly when he is out in public in situations where public health and physical distancing guidelines recommend wearing one.”

City officials are continuing to warn people that they can face a fine of up to $1,000 for not following social distancing orders.

They say 370 people were spoken to or cautioned at parks around the city Saturday.

Toronto remains one of the hardest hit cities by COVID-19 and the total number of confirmed cases in the city topped 10,000 on Sunday.

A total of 759 deaths are related to the virus in the city.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2020.

Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press