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Coronavirus: Confusion over why off-leash dog parks remain closed in Peel Region

Coronavirus: Peel Region officials say it’s too early to reopen park amenities, fields
WATCH ABOVE: Some are wondering why the City of Toronto has reopened parks amenities, but not in Peel Region. Catherine McDonald speaks with the Brampton mayor and a Mississauga councillor who say it’s just too soon.

Mississauga resident Jennifer Kirton says she is confused as to why her city’s leash-free dog parks remain closed despite the fact neighbouring City of Toronto has now opened 70 off-leash dog parks.

Kirton said she has heard some health officials on the news that it’s now safe to open recreational spaces like off-leash dog areas, skate parks and tennis courts, but has heard conflicting information from Peel Region officials.

“It leaves us wondering what is the true story. Is it safe or is it not safe?” said a perplexed Kirton, standing outside the locked gates Etobicoke Valley Park near Highway 427 and Dundas Street East with her large white Samoyed named Lambeau.

“I mean Toronto has more cases than Mississauga. It’s just very confusing.

“It’s just so frustrating to see some regions are doing things and being told it’s safe for them and literally we’re a kilometre away from the border into Toronto, and if you cross that way you can go to parks but on this side nothing is open.”

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Mississauga Coun. Pat Saito explained the decision to keep dog parks closed comes from the region’s medical officer of health.

“Last Tuesday, the province announced, yes, off-leash areas can open on Tuesday but we were kind of caught unaware because they mentioned it last week but it wasn’t on the list of locations that could open along with all of the other sports things,” she said.

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“So we looked at it and we spoke to our medical officer of health Dr. (Lawrence) Low and in his words, ‘It’s too soon.’”

READ MORE: City of Toronto begins reopening closed parks amenities

Low recommended the time is not right to open skate parks, playing fields and off-leash parks.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said while there is excitement about the idea of re-opening, the Region of Peel has to put the health of its citizens first.

He said the number of cases of COVID-19 in Peel continue to rise and they are not rushing to re-open with hospitals in the region at near-capacity.

“The virus is still out there and the last thing I want to see in Peel Region is more of our residents having to go to the hospital and deal with this insidious virus,” said Brown.

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“We’ve seen deaths in our community. We had the first health care worker die in Canada at Brampton Civic and I don’t want to hear more of these stories. That’s why we have to put public health first.”

He said if there was a surge of cases now, the region’s hospitals would be ill-prepared.

“We can’t afford a surge. We have to contain this,” Brown said while questioning if other cities were acting too soon.

“Ottawa is jumping the gun more so than Toronto. All team sports, baseball diamonds, volleyball courts, everything is allowed right now.”

READ MORE: Dog parks, sports fields reopen in Kingston

Saito said it will be at least two weeks before off-leash parks re-open saying the protocols still are not in place.

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“We have agreed with Brampton and Mississauga and we’re going to follow the same timelines. I’m really surprised Toronto has moved ahead. Having said that, Toronto has more high density with people who don’t have backyards,” she said.

With the weather getting warmer, Kirton said she is tempted to drive to Toronto’s Cherry Beach off-leash park where Lambeau can swim in the lake.

“Now this weekend we’re going to have temperatures with humidity near 30 and when you have a big fluffy dog like I do, to walk them in that heat the asphalt is not safe on their paws, there’s no tree cover, so just saying you can still walk your dog is increasingly difficult,” she said.