Ontario Government Closes Playgrounds, Increases Police Powers to Fight COVID

Two more weeks for the stay-at-home order, no more golfing or playgrounds, checkpoints at provincial land borders, all non-essential construction halted, big box retail at 25 per cent capacity max, and no outdoor gatherings with people outside your household. Those are some of the new, more restrictive COVID-19 protection measures announced Friday, but they probably won’t be the most controversial.

“As the latest modelling confirms, without taking immediate and decisive action COVID-19 cases will spiral out of control and our hospitals will be overwhelmed,” said Premier Ford in a statement. “That’s why we are making difficult, but necessary decisions to reduce mobility and keep people in the safety of their own homes. We need to contain the spread of this deadly virus, while getting vaccines in as many arms as quickly as possible.”

The press conference took place over 90 minutes later than original scheduled and was postponed twice over the course of the day. Ford was joined by Minister of Health Christine Elliott, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams to layout the new course of restrictions that will start to go into effect Saturday April 17 at 12:01 am:

  • Prohibit all outdoor social gatherings and organized public events, except for with members of the same household or one other person from outside that household who lives alone or a caregiver for any member of the household;
  • Close all non-essential workplaces in the construction sector;
  • Reduce capacity limits to 25 per cent in all retail settings where in-store shopping is permitted. This includes supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, indoor farmers’ markets, other stores that primarily sell food and pharmacies; and,
  • Close all outdoor recreational amenities, such as golf courses, basketball courts, soccer fields, and playgrounds with limited exceptions.

The stay-at-home initiated two weeks ago will now remain in effect now until at least May 20.

Adding more intensity to the stay-at-home mandate are new powers being granted to police officers, special constables and First Nation Constables. After midnight, the police will have the authority to require anyone out, walking or driving, to provide their home address and the reason they’re not at home. But then what happens?

“If you are not willing to comply, then you are breaking the law, and there is an option for the police officer to issue a ticket,” said Jones, who adding that reporting your neighbours to police or bylaw may also be necessary. “I’m never going to encourage people to inundate the bylaw enforcement or police departments with calls, but if it means saving lives, then I think we have to think about what your social responsibilities are as an individual,” she added.

“It’s a Black Friday of rights slashing by Queen’s Park today, risking a rash of racial profiling and overbroad police powers, presuming everyone outside guilty until proven otherwise,” the Canadian Civil Liberties Association tweeted in response. “The mobility rights restrictions fail to achieve constitutional proportionality.”

The opposition parties immediately seized on that aspect as well as all the things that were not included in Friday’s announcement.

“Doug Ford held a multi-day cabinet meeting to debate the politics of public health. As a result, he came out with watered-down, weak changes,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath in a statement.

“Making this all about punishment and enforcement is the ultimate way for Ford to blame Ontarians,” Horwath added. “The vast majority of people are following the rules and public health advice. But buses are packed with essential workplaces. People feeling under the weather have to go in to work because they don’t have paid sick days. Employers are continuing non-essential functions because Ford allows them to.”

“New restrictions are necessary to slow the spread of COVID. But they won’t be effective until people and businesses are properly supported so Ontarians are able to stay home and stay safe,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in a statement.

Schreiner called on the government to close all workplaces except the “most essential”, to triple the Small Business Support Grant, initiate more inspections, target at-risk workplaces with mobile vaccine clinics, order more PPE and rapid testing, and initiate paid sick days and time off for workers to get vaccinated.

We need to make workplaces safe if we want to stop this humanitarian crisis,” Schreiner added. “But instead of addressing the crucial issue of workplace outbreaks, Ford is playing the blame game.”

A report in the Toronto Star last week found that more than two-thirds of the workplace outbreaks in Toronto have taken place in offices, warehouses, construction sites, and food processing plants according to data from Toronto Public Health. These are places have remained open through the course of the pandemic while bars, restaurants, nightclubs, retail, grocery and malls were responsible for a combined 19 pr cent of workplace outbreaks since the start of the pandemic.

With that in mind, there were nearly 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday alone. With 4,812 new confirmed cases, this marks the third time this week that Ontario has set a record for the most new cases of COVID in a single day. According Public Health Ontario, for the last six days, only one has seen a new case count less than 4,000.

Along with the new record number of new daily cases, there were two fairly high-profile examples of COVID restrictions being flaunted in hot spots Friday.

In Peel Region, a police sergeant was suspended after a video made the rounds on social media that showed the officer interacting with the owners of Hug Gym, which is facing several charges for refusing to close under the current provincial restrictions. In the video, the now-suspended officer seems to be supporting both the owners and the anti-mask protestors gathered at the gym.

Then, down the road in Milton, a construction company fired a number contractors after a video was posted showing an “extremely inappropriate and entirely unacceptable incident” at one of their work sites. The “incident” in question took place last Friday, and it was a retirement party for one of the workers involving alcohol, an adult performer, and no masking or social distancing.

The latest numbers from the Science Table presented before today’s press conference painted a dire prediction if things don’t change. The worst case scenario shows that we could see as many as 30,000 new COVID cases per day by the end of May. The experts also warned that without stronger system-level measures and immediate support for essential workers and high-risk communities, the number of cases will remain high through the summer.

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