“They are putting their own health at risk and by risking the spread of the virus to others, they could contribute to the kind of setback we are trying hard to avoid,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Twitter. “I know from talking to them tonight these are smart people who simply have to do better going forward.”
Premier Doug Ford commented on the gatherings during a televised address Sunday morning.
“I thought it was a rock concert at the beginning,” Ford said. “I was absolutely shocked. My friends, I get it. It’s a beautiful day out, everyone wants to get out and have a great time, I fully understand. That’s the reason we opened the parks, so people can get out there and enjoy the weather. But the images I saw — we just can’t have that right now.”
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Numerous photos shared across social media platforms show hordes of people lounging in the park, apparently disregarding physical distancing regulations.
The city has made it illegal to come within two metres of someone from a different household in parks and public squares.
Those who break the bylaw could be handed a $1,000 ticket on the spot, though officers can also issue higher tickets — subject to the court system — in which fines go up to $5,000 on conviction.
Bylaw officers had a visible presence in the park on Sunday and that appears to have prevented further gatherings. Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders went to the area to speak to residents and said he was disappointed to hear of the large gathering, adding that tickets were issued for public drinking.
Officials said four tickets were also issued for urinating in a park.
“The volume of parkgoers and number that were publicly intoxicated were a challenge for enforcement officers,” officials added in a news release.
The city’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, also condemned the “selfish and dangerous behaviour” of parkgoers.
She noted the city has seen an uptick in cases of COVID-19, reporting 258 new cases on Friday alone.
Both Tory and de Villa said some people were practising good physical distancing at other parks, but Trinity Bellwoods was way overcrowded.
Photos of the park drew much ire on social media, with Beck Taxi tweeting: “Please don’t contact us for a ride home if you’ve spent the day at Trinity Bellwoods Park ignoring physical distancing rules.”
The City’s statement put it more bluntly.
“More than 700 people from Toronto have tragically lost their lives due to COVID-19,” it reads. “Public gatherings, like today’s in Trinity Bellwoods Park, threaten to undo the difficult and challenging work residents of this city have done over the last 10 weeks in their collective effort to beat COVID-19.”
Tory, meanwhile, is also now facing criticism after photos posted to social media appeared to show him violating physical distancing regulations while speaking about safety measures to those crowding the park on Saturday.
He issued an apology on Sunday evening and vowed to set a better example.
“I visited Trinity Bellwoods Park to try to determine why things were the way they were,” he said. “I fully intended to properly physically distance but it was very difficult to do.”
— With files from Ryan Rocca