Ottawa bylaw officers on Friday will begin fining repeat offenders who hang out in closed parks and who violate a recent provincial order that banned gatherings larger than five people in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the mayor said.
“This is a serious issue and we’ve been trying to be reasonable and lenient,” Jim Watson said in a teleconference call with reporters.
“But those days are over.”
The emergency order issued by the Ontario government six days ago gave the city’s bylaw department the power to enforce the ban on big groups and non-essential businesses and issue steep fines, starting at $750 for individuals.
Asked about the enforcement strategy throughout this week, municipal officials said bylaw officers were fielding more than 100 calls per day about large gatherings and use of parks but had so far only given out verbal warnings.
One officer gave a total of 70 verbal warnings just at Mooney’s Bay between Wednesday and Thursday, and later installed caution tape around the park’s workout equipment, Watson told reporters.
Bylaw calls on Thursday alone totalled more than 150, according to the mayor. The subject of people’s complaints have reportedly included horseback riding lessons, open hair salons, groups playing soccer, basketball and beach volleyball and gatherings in parks, skateparks and backyards.
That type of ongoing behaviour amid the viral pandemic continues to frustrate municipal and health officials and is “irresponsible and selfish,” Watson said Friday.
He also warned that the minimum ticket issued for breaching the provincial orders — $750 — will actually total $880 when the victim’s surcharge is included.
An individual can be fined up to $100,000, while a corporation could be charged up to $10 million.
If someone who breaks the rules refuses to give their name to a bylaw officer, they can then be fined $1,130 for obstructing the officer and bylaw can call in the police to help with the issue, Watson added Friday.
The mayor’s latest comments about the city’s enforcement strategy came after provincial health officials released sought-after modelling data with COVID-19 case and death projections that Ontario has been using to inform its response to the outbreak.
If the province continues with the current health measures in place, Ontario could see 80,000 COVID-19 cases and just under 1,600 deaths linked to the virus by the end of April alone, according to the modelling system.
If the province implements “enhanced” containment measures now, the head of Public Health Ontario said he believes the provincial coronavirus death toll will fall somewhere between 3,000 and 15,000 people over the full course of the pandemic, which could be 18 months to two years.
“We’ve seen the provincial projections on the severity of the situation,” Watson said. “Please stay at home. Please practice physical distancing.”
“We all have a part to play to stop the spread and please do your part.”
As of Friday, provincial and local health officials said there are 3,255 known cases of COVID-19 across Ontario and 289 in Ottawa.
In the national capital, the deaths of three people have been linked to the virus and officials are investigating five outbreaks in three retirements homes, a long-term care facility and a group home.