More than three weeks after the City of Toronto issued an emergency order for all schools to close down, a handful remain open in the Bathurst and Lawrence area.
Concerned residents reached out to CityNews, describing hundreds of students and staff going in and around the private schools, crowds of kids walking with backpacks and cars lined up for pickups. At one school, CityNews crews observed a steady stream of students loading onto a yellow school bus.
CityNews has chosen not to identify the schools in question.
The City confirms it’s aware of the situation and is investigating. However, it appears enforcement may be challenging due to ambiguity around the wording of regulations.
The schools claim they are now closed for in-person learning but are operating as a place of worship and hold religious services for children between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.. They say they are holding numerous services at a time with a limit of 10 people per room.
The provincial regulation states that “no person shall attend… a gathering, whether indoors or outdoors, for the purposes of a wedding, a funeral or a religious service, rite or ceremony of more than 10 people” but does not specify whether it’s 10 people per facility or room.
“I think, in my experience, different people have different interpretation of existing regulation. I think that’s what keep our lawyers so busy,” Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said.
Lawyer Ari Goldkind says he believes the schools are trying to exploit what he calls a “loophole” or “workaround.”
“If any of these things saw the inside of the courtroom, my sense is a judge or justice of peace would say, ‘Wait a minute. I know what you are doing. It’s clever but clearly in contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the regulation that is really meant to not have significant gatherings.”
Toronto Public Health continues to investigate and say they are consulting with legal counsel.