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Coronavirus: Ottawa bylaw issues nearly 500 verbal warnings about outdoor restrictions over weekend

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

Ottawa bylaw said Monday its officers issued “close to 500 verbal warnings” to residents in parks over the weekend after a class order from the local public health unit tightened restrictions on outdoor recreational amenities amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s bylaw services tweeted out Monday afternoon that its officers handed out hundreds of warnings related to mask violations, crowding and playing hockey in the city over the weekend.

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A new class order issued by Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches went into effect on Friday morning at 5 a.m.

The order clamps down on provincial restrictions amid the novel coronavirus pandemic that ban team sports such as hockey and limits gathering sizes to 25 at rinks, tobogganing hills and other outdoor recreational amenities. The city has launched a new online reservation tool to book 45-minute blocks on public skating rinks.

A temporary bylaw issued late last year also makes it mandatory to wear a mask at outdoor rinks while off the ice, with masks “highly encouraged” during skating.

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Roger Chapman, Ottawa’s director of bylaw services, told Global News in an email statement that officers were conducting proactive patrols in parks this weekend to inform people about the new restrictions.

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Chapman said officers asked several crowds of more than 25 people to disperse at these sites and all residents complied with the requests.

He also noted that officers asked multiple groups of people skating or playing hockey on stormwater ponds to clear off the ice, which can be thin and unstable.

The approach is in keeping with directions from Anthony Di Monte, Ottawa’s head of emergency and protective services, who said last week when the class order was announced that officers will practice education over enforcement.

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Chapman warned, however, that residents will face fines if they flout COVID-19 restrictions in the future.

“Bylaw opted to issue warnings over the weekend in order to allow residents to adjust to these new regulations. While officers continue to use their discretion, moving forward, those who fail to comply will be fined,” he said in his statement.

Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Carol-Anne Meehan said on Twitter Monday that “it’s time to start ticketing,” otherwise residents won’t get the message about new restrictions.

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Chapman also flagged that two charges were issued under the Reopening Ontario Act over the weekend: one for a social gathering at a private residents and the other for a mask violation at a restaurant. He said other investigations related to social gatherings over the weekend are ongoing.

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