Health officials in Toronto and Peel Region said bylaw officers will only enforce social gathering size limits amid the COVID-19 pandemic under Ontario’s new red category restrictions.
However, officials said bylaw officers from both regions will not be issuing tickets if groups from different households are caught congregating because that rule is only “a recommendation.”
Both regions are currently in the “Red-Control Level” in the province’s COVID-19 Response Framework, which means “gathering limits for all organized public events and social gatherings” are capped at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
Toronto and Peel Region have also added additional restrictions of limiting “all social gatherings to household members only and/or one or two essential supports,” and those are “persons who are essential to maintaining physical and mental health.”
Toronto health officials said Wednesday that groups from different households found socializing will not be ticketed because it’s categorized as a recommendation.
“Those are indeed strong recommendations from me,” said Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, on Wednesday. “So this is advice, they’re strong recommendations, but they are not subject to enforcement.”
“We have never nor will we ever take enforcement actions related to recommendations,” said Matthew Pegg, Toronto Fire Chief and head of emergency management.
“A recommendation is simply that,” he said.
Both Toronto’s and Peel’s websites fail to highlight whether any of the new red-level restrictions for social gatherings, including large events like weddings and funerals, are enforceable legal orders or recommendations.
Meanwhile, health officials in Brampton and Mississauga say bylaw officers will not issue a ticket if they see people from different households under one roof or hanging outdoors because those are recommendations in their municipalities as well.
However, you could be ticketed $880 if your social group is above the 10-person limit indoors and 25-person limit outdoors.
“Ten inside, 25 outdoors is the magic number,” said Jean-Pierre Maurice, manager of bylaw enforcement for the City of Brampton.
Maurice adds it would be too difficult to enforce whether social groups are all from the same household, even if they were adhering to the size limit.
“From an enforcement perspective, it makes it very challenging,” Maurice said.
“If I show up to your door-step and I start asking, ‘Who resides here? Is this your immediate family? Is it a friend? Is it a neighbour?’, that becomes very challenging for us to get that information and make the determination whether or not you’re within the law or outside the law,” he added.
Maurice says that bylaw officers in his city are enforcing the social gathering limit mostly on a complaint basis.
“We’re primarily responding to complaints,” Maurice said. “99.9 per cent of our response has been through a neighbour or someone who lives in the same household.”
“Every public complaint that we receive for private social gatherings, our officers do investigate and enforce,” said Sam Rogers, director of enforcement for the City of Mississauga.
Rogers adds that even though bylaw officers will not ticket you if you are socializing with members from a different household, he is pleading for residents to abide by that recommendation.
People should not be asking whether they can get away with something without being fined, he said.
“This is a public health concern,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
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