Toronto police assigning dedicated team to respond to reports of illegal gatherings
TORONTO -- Toronto police have assigned a dedicated team of officers to respond to calls about illegal social gatherings and will now be focused in on enforcement rather than education.
Last week, the Ford government reduced the maximum size of allowable social gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors while simultaneously introducing steep fines of up to $10,000 for anyone found to be hosting an illegal gathering.
The new stricter limits, which exempt “staffed businesses,” were put into place in response to a steep increase in COVID-19 infections and amid increasing calls for some public health restrictions used earlier in the pandemic to be revived.
At a briefing on Monday afternoon, Interim Police Chief James Ramer said that Toronto police had been responding to COVID-19-related calls on an as required basis across all divisions but will now be assigning a dedicated team of officers to do so in coordination with municipal bylaw officers and Toronto Public Health staff.
The purpose of the change, he said, is to provide a more “consistent approach” that prioritizes enforcement in lights of the new stricter rules and penalties.
That means that officers will be much less likely to hand out warnings when they are called in to break up a large house party or other gathering.
“The focus now will be more on enforcement rather than on education and cautioning,” Ramer said. “That had been working, I would say quite successfully, up until recent days but clearly this is a public safety issue and we are going to need to do things differently.”
Public health officials have repeatedly identified large social gatherings as one of the driving factors behind the resurgence in COVID-19 infections.
That said the previous limits of 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors permitted under Stage 3 of the province’s reopening made cracking down on large gatherings difficult.
Earlier this month, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown even lamented the fact that bylaw enforcement officers in his city weren’t able to shut down a backyard party with 89 people in attendance.
Ramer said that going forward police won’t necessarily be assigning additional resources to COVID-19 related calls but will be “prioritizing” those calls where possible.
He said that they will also be providing a “more focused, coordinated and consistent response.”
As part of that response the city will be convening regular meetings with its enforcement partners, including police, and will also be streamlining its intake and dispatch process for complaints related to illegal social gatherings.
“It is time to get much tougher and to bring the hammer down as it were when it comes to enforcement,” Mayor John Tory said during Monday’s briefing. “There is a time, as there has been, for education and there is a time, as there has been, for warnings but then there is a time to enforce the law and to indicate clearly to those who won’t comply that there are. I believe most people acknowledge we have arrived at that time.”
Ramer said that Toronto police did receive 20 calls for illegal social gatherings over the course of the weekend but did not issue any citations, as most of the gatherings were broken up by the time officers arrived.
Since the beginning of the pandemic the city has taken enforcement formal action in connection with COVID-19 related bylaws and emergency orders more than 1,400 times.