COVID-19: Staff to consider putting earlier curfews on Ottawa parks per mayor’s request

A person rests on a bench at Mooney's Bay Beach in Ottawa, on Saturday, May 23, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. City staff might implement stricter closing times on the site and other parks in the city this summer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa green spaces could soon be subject to earlier curfews and other restrictions in response to recent reports of gatherings in local parks violating the province’s COVID-19 stay-home order.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who Monday hosted a meeting with park staff and representatives from the National Capital Commission, has directed staff to review putting earlier closing times on city parks “in an effort to limit gatherings after dark,” according to a statement Tuesday from his press secretary.

Watson told CBC Ottawa Morning on Tuesday that curfews could be put in place as early as 8 p.m.

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Currently, Ottawa parks are supposed to close at 11 p.m., though Watson’s press secretary said staff have the power to amend closing hours.

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The measures come after a series of gatherings and disturbances in the areas of Mooney’s Bay and Vincent Massey Park over the weekend, including a stabbing that saw two people arrested.

Photos circulated on social media Sunday morning showing beer bottles and other litter in the NCC-run Vincent Massey Park.

River Coun. Riley Brockington, whose ward includes the aforementioned parks, told Global News on Monday that the city needs to put a plan and more rules in place to govern how residents can use large green spaces under Ontario’s stay-home order this summer.

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He floated increased presence of bylaw officers, capacity limits and curfews on Ottawa parks as some options to curb gatherings and limit the potential spread of the coronavirus outdoors.

Gatherings of more than five people are not permitted under Ontario’s stay-home order and city parks are allowed to stay open for exercise and recreation.

Exact details of new restrictions coming to Ottawa parks will be unveiled at a technical briefing on Wednesday afternoon following a meeting of city council.

But some of Ottawa’s urban-most councillors would like to see the issue added to council’s agenda on Wednesday.

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Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney shared a letter on Twitter stating their opposition to the mayor’s proposal, co-signed by Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King and Capital Coun. Shawn Menard.

The councillors suggested that not only would an 8 p.m. curfew not curb COVID-19 numbers in the community, but would do “undue harm” to residents, citing the impact green space can have for mental health during the pandemic and the value of public space to the unhoused.

They also said an additional layer of regulation would not deter large gatherings, public drinking or violence at these sites, activities that are already prohibited by law or public health directives. Rather, the new rule could simply force the same activities indoors or to non-park spaces in Ottawa.

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The councillors called for an “urgent discussion” at Wednesday’s council meeting to consider alternatives such as mandating mask wearing in parks to help reduce the risks of transmission.

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