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Ottawa Public Health order clamps down on outdoor hockey, crowd size rules

People play pond hockey on Brown's Inlet in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Editor’s note: The headline of this story was updated to reflect existing provincial regulations surrounding outdoor hockey and gathering limits.

A new class order to limit crowds at Ottawa skating rinks and other outdoor recreation amenities during the novel coronavirus pandemic will also ban practising or playing hockey on the ice.

Starting Friday at 5 a.m., the city-wide class order will limit gatherings at skating rinks, skiing trailheads, sledding hills and any other outdoor recreation amenity to a maximum of 25 people.

People must maintain a distance of two metres at these sites and wear masks when off the ice or around the other amenities, though wearing masks is also “highly recommended” while skating or participating in other recreational activities.

Read more: What you should know about ice skating outdoors this winter

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Some are exempt from the requirement: children under two; those developmentally under the age of five who cannot be persuaded to wear a mask; and anyone with medical conditions preventing proper mask use.

Owners and operators of these sites will be responsible for enforcing the new rules and posting signage and route markers to promote distance and improve the flow of people.

Hockey now offside, subject to penalties

The final clause of the class order also prohibits playing team sports such as hockey in places where maintaining two metres of distance would be difficult.

“Do not practice or play team sports or any other sports or games that are likely to result in an individual coming within two (2) metres of each other,” the order reads.

A release from the City of Ottawa on Thursday confirmed that only skating will be permitted on ice rinks. Sport equipment such as hockey sticks, pucks and balls will not be permitted on the ice.

Roger Chapman, Ottawa’s director of bylaw services, said in a statement to Global News that ice hockey and is also banned at city rec facilities under the Reopening Ontario Act, which states that outdoor recreation amenities can only open if team sports are neither played nor practiced.

Street hockey games are considered social gatherings, he added, meaning they are limited to a maximum of 10 people with physical distancing in place.

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The four city-owned rinks in Ottawa will implement an online booking system to reserve 45-minute blocks during peak skating times. Groups of maximum four skaters must show an online or printed out confirmation to skate at the rinks during the specified hours.

Those peak hours are as follows:

  • City Hall Rink of Dreams, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
  • Jim Tubman Chevrolet Rink of Dreams, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays
  • Lansdowne Park Skating Court, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays
  • Ben Franklin Place Skating Rink, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays

The city’s new reservation system will open on Friday at 6 p.m. to book skating times for Saturday and Sunday. After the initial weekend, reservations can be made up to two days ahead of time with new slots opening at 6 p.m. daily.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, is able to enact class orders such as this under section 22 of Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act, which gives her the power to enact regulations to reduce the risk of spreading a communicable disease.

Read more: Capacity limits in place as neighbourhood rinks open at Peterborough parks

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Etches writes in the order that while there is generally reduced risk of transmitting the coronavirus in outdoor settings, that risk is increased when there is “crowding, close contact, prolonged exposure and forceful exhalation.”

Etches and Anthony Di Monte, Ottawa’s general manager of emergency and protective services, said Tuesday when the order was first announced that bylaw officers will take an educational tack rather than an enforcement approach to ensure all residents are informed about the new rule.

Yet fines are a possibility should residents not comply with the order.

The maximum penalty as laid out in the order is $5,000 per offence.

Ottawa has been under Ontario’s 28-day province-wide lockdown since Dec. 26, 2020. During that time, Ottawa’s COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations and coronavirus outbreaks have surged, prompting concern from Etches and other officials in the city.

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