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Ottawa mayor calls parties amid pandemic ‘idiotic’; bylaw team to enforce new group ban

A Ottawa bylaw spokesperson talks to reporters downtown on Monday June 10, 2019.
A Ottawa bylaw spokesperson talks to reporters downtown on Monday June 10, 2019. Beatrice Britneff / Global News

A dedicated team of Ottawa bylaw officers will “immediately” begin enforcing the province’s new emergency order that bans gatherings larger than five people in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the city’s mayor announced on Monday.

In a teleconference call with health officials and reporters, Mayor Jim Watson confirmed that the city’s bylaw department has been given new powers by the Ontario government to implement the new rule and issue steep fines for violations — and he didn’t mince his words as he urged residents to “respect the law.”

READ MORE: Ontario lags behind all other provinces in COVID-19 testing

It is completely irresponsible when I get reports back that people are having house parties or porch parties and they are pouring out onto the street,” the mayor said.

“This is a serious epidemic and we need the tools that the province has given us so that we can let these people know that it’s not only illegal, it’s idiotic to be holding a house party in the midst of a pandemic.”

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The bylaw department responded to 50 calls and complaints about large gatherings over the weekend alone, according to Anthony Di Monte, the city’s general manager of emergency and protective services.

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That’s “not acceptable,” Watson said, arguing that gatherings in homes and parks are not only potentially “harmful” to the individuals involved, but also to the families and households with whom they’re in close contact.

The update on how the large group ban will be enforced locally also came as Ottawa Public Health reported the death of a second resident related to the virus, which causes the illness known as COVID-19 — a development the mayor referenced as he tried to stress the urgency of the situation and importance of staying home and self-isolating.

READ MORE: 2nd death linked to coronavirus in Ottawa, local health unit reports

“We have to all respect the fact that, yes, it’s terribly boring sitting at home watching bad movies on Netflix, but it’s the way we’re gonna get through this,” the mayor said.

“There is a sense of frustration, I think, on the part of all first responders and civic officials and health officials that people have to understand that this is not some practice or a drill.

“This is the real thing. People are dying.”

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Watson singled out Ottawa parents, too, urging them to also “take responsibility” for their children’s whereabouts.

READ MORE: ‘Uncharted waters’: Ottawa mayor declares state of emergency over coronavirus

There are currently 130 cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, including outbreaks at two separate retirement homes, as of Sunday night, according to Ottawa Public Health.

Twenty-one people are now in hospital because of the virus, six of whom are in intensive care, the city’s chief medical officer, Dr. Vera Etches, reported Monday.

Watson last week declared a state of emergency in Ottawa over the coronavirus outbreak, so that the municipality can respond more quickly and efficiently to the pandemic.

Fines up to $100K for individuals, up to $10M for corporations

According to the City of Ottawa, the dedicated team of bylaw officers announced Monday will be “proactively monitoring and enforcing calls” related to the following four issues:

  • gatherings of more than five people in public or private residences;
  • people congregating in parks [or] using park facilities or equipment;
  • restaurants that continue to offer dine-in services; and,
  • non-essential retail businesses that continue to operate in violation of the province’s order.

Residents who witness any of these situations are asked to call 3-1-1.

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The fines for individuals who violate the new provincial order range between $750 and $100,000, Di Monte said.

According to a memo provided to reporters and attributed to Di Monte, the director of corporation found to have violated the ban could be fined up to $500,000, while a corporation itself could be fined up to $10 million.

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Any complaints about violations of federal orders to quarantine following international travel should be made to the Ottawa Police Service, Watson said.