Fourteen people slapped with $880 fines after police bust large gathering in Toronto
TORONTO -- It appears that the days of educating Toronto residents who break COVID-19 public health measures are over, with police now issuing hefty fines to rule breakers.
On Wednesday morning, Toronto police said they handed out fines of $880 each to 14 people under the province’s Reopening Ontario Act.
Officer Randall Arsenault said in a tweet that the tickets were issued in Scarborough, near Kingston Road and St. Clair Avenue East, following a “blatant disregard of rules meant to protect us all.”
Arsenault said “large crowds” of up to 40 to 50 people were observed as he urged residents to keep “house parties” under control.
Speaking to CP24, Toronto Police Deputy Chief Peter Yuen said that "the education phase is over" when it comes to enforcing public health measures.
"We’ve been at this game since March and we’ve been educating," Yuen said. "The Toronto Police Service obviously has been educating and has been issuing many warnings but this is a time where we are going to get to a more aggressive stage and ensure people understand the legislation."
The approach by Toronto police is a far cry from that of the city’s bylaw officers who did not lay a single charge in connection with COVID-19 violations over the last month, despite receiving more than 400 complaints.
Earlier this month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford lamented that the quarantine system is "broken" because federal health officers were not charging people found to be ignoring self-isolation orders for COVID-19.
On Thursday, Ford announced the rollback of social gathering limits in the province’s three COVID-19 hotspots--which now extend province-wide-- and said "severe fines" will be issued to anyone who ignores public health guidelines.
The current gathering restrictions in Ontario are set at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
"Too much of it has been tied to people not following the rules - people who think it's okay to hold parties, to carry on as if things are back to normal,” Ford said at the time. "We can't have these wild parties right now. It's just way, way too risky. Don't try to get around the rules."
Ford said the decision to cap gathering sizes was made based off the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.
City plans to combat illegal gatherings with dedicated police team
Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who also serves as the general manager of Toronto’s office of emergency management, acknowledged that while the limits on gatherings may be “uncomfortable and inconvenient,” it is imperative that residents comply to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Maintaining compliance with these important public health measures is critical to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our city,” he said. “That is why we are enhancing our internal processes in direct response to these emergency orders.”
Pegg said those enhancements will include the creation of a dedicated team of Toronto police officers who will respond to complaints regarding illegal gatherings.
“The fines and penalties associated with violation of the gathering restrictions are very significant,” Pegg said, while adding that they are “completely avoidable.”
“Ensuring that you do not plan to host, nor take part in any gathering that exceed the limits established by the province of Ontario is the easiest and best way to ensure that you remain compliant,” he said.