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Street-racing group stages ‘mega meet’ in Hamilton amid COVID-19 restrictions

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Premier Doug Ford upset over weekend car rally in Ancaster' Coronavirus: Premier Doug Ford upset over weekend car rally in Ancaster
WATCH ABOVE: Catherine McDonald speaks with a security expert who say it was too risky for officers to ticket attendees at the event.

A group of street racers from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) took over a parking lot in Ancaster for what police are calling a “mega meet,” with hundreds of people in attendance on Saturday night.

The event happened just hours after the Ford government announced that it would be implementing new gathering restrictions across the province in response to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

According to Hamilton police Superintendent Will Mason, police were notified about the meet by York Regional Police shortly before 6 p.m. on Saturday evening, as it was getting underway in the Cineplex Ancaster parking lot in the Meadowlands.

Officers from York police, as well as Peel Regional Police and Ontario Provincial Police, were investigating as part of the ERASE team, which targets street racing across multiple regions — which, police say, has increased during the pandemic, while streets are less busy.

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Read more: Toronto police to crack down on stunt driving after significant uptick in incidents

Initially, only three Hamilton police officers were on the scene, where Mason said a large number of vehicles had already gathered.

“Over the next hour or so of the evening, the group swelled to completely fill the theatre lot, the Chapters lot, and spilled into smaller surrounding lots,” said Mason. “There were several hundred vehicles present.”

With the assistance of officers from the ERASE team, Mason said the group was eventually cleared from the area by about 9:30 p.m., with no street racing activities taking place.

Mason said no tickets were issued for the gathering exceeding the number of people permitted in outdoor gatherings — which has now been reduced to 25 from 100.

“Given the size of the crowd and the overall risk to public safety, the need to disperse the crowd outweighed the ability to fine specific individuals at that time. However, this has been forwarded to an investigative team, who will be following up. And if we are able to identify the individuals responsible for organizing the event, we will be prosecuting them to the fullest extent of our ability under the law.”

Read more: New COVID-19 gathering restrictions expanded to all of Ontario

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Click to play video 'Hundreds attend gathering in Hamilton parking lot despite coronavirus restrictions' Hundreds attend gathering in Hamilton parking lot despite coronavirus restrictions
Hundreds attend gathering in Hamilton parking lot despite coronavirus restrictions

It’s unclear exactly how many people attended the gathering, but Mason estimated that “several hundred” people were there.

Video filmed at the scene by CHCH News and shared with Global News shows vast numbers of people walking around the parking lot – most of them not wearing face masks.

A statement from Premier Doug Ford condemned the gathering.

“The reckless behaviour that we saw in Ancaster last night was totally unacceptable,” said Ford. “While Ontario has made incredible progress in the fight against COVID-19, we cannot take that progress for granted. This fight isn’t over and now is not the time to let our guard down. Our actions will determine Ontario’s course as we prepare for a potential second wave.”

Sandy Shaw, the NDP MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, took to Twitter on Sunday morning to speak out against the event, which she referred to as an “illegal gathering.”

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“This was a very dangerous situation that risked our safety,” wrote Shaw.