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Households or bubbles? Ontario drive-ins face mixed signals on carload rules

Last Updated Jul 9, 2020 at 3:08 pm EDT

People attend a drive-in movie screening of the film "Yesterday," Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in a parking lot behind the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, in Boston. A Toronto concert organizer says confusing guidelines for Ontario drive-ins have left him little choice but to postpone a major weekend event meant to unite friends and families in their cars.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Steven Senne

TORONTO — A Toronto concert organizer says confusing guidelines for Ontario drive-ins have left him little choice but to postpone a major weekend event meant to unite friends and families in their cars.

Dan Gunam’s Together at the Drive-in, a two-day live music and film series originally slated for mid-July, has been pushed to later this month after planners discovered that by following the province’s social bubble rules, they might violate other restrictions placed on vehicles at drive-ins.

Gunam said guidelines on a website for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, a non-profit informational organization tied to the Ontario government, state that “only individuals from the same household can occupy the same vehicle” at drive-ins.

He believes that puts event organizers at a disadvantage and contradicts provincial rules introduced last month which allow for social circles of up to 10 people.

“The frustrating part is nobody knows,” Gunam said about the latest provincial guidelines for drive-ins.

A spokeswoman for WSPS declined to discuss their recommendations, while a representative for Ontario’s Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries acknowledged that drive-ins may be under their purview, but she was unable to provide further guidance.

The province’s website detailing its phased approach to reopening lists some of the guidelines for drive-in venues, but there’s no mention of restrictions for households.

Gunam said the lack of clarity raised concerns with his insurer who refused to cover the weekend of concerts, headlined by Canadian artists Kardinal Offishall and Karl Wolf, unless ticketholders were explicitly informed of the single-household requirements upfront and it was enforced on the grounds.

But Gunam said it would be “impossible” to verify who resides together and who doesn’t.

“People who live in the same household don’t have the same driver’s licence (address)… because sometimes they’re (still registered) at their parents,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons Gunam backed away from his original dates, offering full refunds or passes for the rescheduled concerts. He hopes the new shows will take place under less restrictive Stage 3 guidelines.

But he still wonders how seriously Ontario leaders are taking drive-in guidelines.

Other organizers have drawn up their own variations of the province’s COVID-19 recommendations, leading to inconsistencies between events.

The spinoff of Toronto digital art exhibit Immersive van Gogh, dubbed Gogh By Car, has implemented a six-passenger rule for vehicles but doesn’t require occupants to be from a single household, only the same social bubble. A representative said the goal was to be “compliant with the general social gathering guidelines” of the province.

The rules at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival are more strict — ticketbuyers are informed on the event’s website that each car must only carry people from the same household.

Artistic director Cristiano de Florentiis said he’s sticking to single-household guidelines for the 12-night event that kicks off on July 20.

“We are following the rules put in place when we were still in Phase One in Toronto,” he said.

“The event is selling great, and we don’t have people complaining, so we don’t think that we are suffering (from) these rules.”

Meanwhile, a website for the upcoming City View Drive-in concert series in Toronto, which features rockers Monster Truck, Allan Rayman and A Tribe Called Red, makes no mention of household requirements for carloads. They encourage people to “drive with your close friends and family members” to the show.

Even when strict COVID-19 rules are stated by drive-in event organizers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re enforced.

One of the most common drive-in guidelines requires people to stay inside their vehicle at all times, but videos from a Canada Day drive-in concert hosted by country singer Dean Brody in Markham, Ont., showed dozens of people standing outside their cars, hanging out windows or laying on the hoods — all violations of the provincial guidelines.

Cabin Media Entertainment Group, the organizer of the event, did not respond to questions about enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines on the premises.

Gunam is confident there are solutions to many of the drive-in misunderstandings and shortfalls. He hopes to see clearer rules in place before he moves forward with other drive-in events later this summer.

He suggests government agencies make consultants more readily available to answer questions or have a committee of drive-ins and event planners formed to establish a consistency of practices.

“It should be common sense to put together people who have done these type of events,” he said.

“Get everybody’s input.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2020.

 

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David Friend, The Canadian Press