'It's selfish': Officials disappointed to see large crowds at downtown Toronto park amid pandemic
Published Saturday, May 23, 2020 6:48PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 23, 2020 11:28PM EDT
Toronto officials expressed their disappointment Saturday after large crowds gathered at a downtown Toronto Park to enjoy the summer-like weather appeared to have ignored physical distancing rules.
Thousands of people packed Trinity Bellwoods Park, located near Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue, despite repeated calls from public health officials to avoid large gatherings as Ontario continues to see a rise of new COVID-19 cases after being on the decline for weeks.
Speaking to CP24 on Saturday evening, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was disappointed to see the crowds at the downtown park not following physical distancing by-laws.
“I was by a number of other parks today, and there were parks that were reported to me as being perfectly in compliance with the physical distancing and people got the message. People knew what they had to do to stop the spread of the virus,” Tory said.
“And yet for some reason at Trinity Bellwoods, people were engaging in just incredibly disappointing behaviour.”
The mayor said police officers and by-law officers will be spending more time at the downtown park on Sunday to ensure that all public health measures are being followed.
Tory said he went to the park Saturday night to talk to some of the people about what unfolded.
“I know these people are smart enough because I talked to them tonight. And I know that they know that we’re in a crisis here and we’re trying to get their help to make sure that we cannot go backwards,” the mayor said.
Tory said city parks mostly stayed open throughout the pandemic. However, if things don’t improve at Trinity Bellwoods, he will support the decision to close it.
Tory said he hopes that people who will be visiting the park starting Sunday will be responsible, civic-minded, and considerate of their fellow Torontonians.
“They want to be in the park to give themselves a break from being confined to their quarters for the last several weeks, and it’s a nice day. I get all that, but I also get the fact that people have died in the city,” Tory said.
“And I was telling them that, unfortunately, more people are dying, and the numbers are going the wrong way. And that they have to be part of the solution, not become part of the problem,” Tory said.
Despite the situation at Trinity Bellwoods, Tory said he was encouraged by what he saw in other parts of the city. People in other parks were following physical distancing rules while enjoying the warm weather.
“We’re in a new era here. We’ve got to wipe out this virus, and that involves everybody understanding that, and behaving, accordingly,” Tory said.
“It’s not a partying matter. It’s a matter of life or death.”
Toronto Public Health reported 220 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the city’s total to 9,835. Of those cases, 750 have died while 7,202 have recovered.
The large crowds also caught the attention of the city’s medical officer of health, who on Friday urged residents to not socialize in group settings this weekend.
Dr. Eileen de Villa wrote on Twitter that large gatherings who don’t adhere to public health measures could “set us back.”
Ward 10 Councillor Joe Cressy said he was also disappointed to see the large crowds at Trinity Bellwoods Park.
“It’s dangerous, and frankly, it’s selfish,” Cressy said. “We are by no means out of the woods yet.”
He said the city has not spiked the curve yet, and Saturday’s large crowds make the second wave a potential reality.
Groups of more than five people were also spotted at the downtown park, which violates the province’s emergency order prohibiting gatherings of more than five people who are not members of the same household.
According to the city, it has seen a notable increase in complaints related to park use and physical distancing after weeks of declining number of complaints. Toronto reopened some park amenities and city services this weekend as part of the province’s reopening plan.
Cressy said the city has received troubling reports on Saturday regarding the situation at Trinity Bellwoods.
“This type of behaviour, it’s unacceptable,” he said.
Cressy said he has been in touch with city staff to adjust the planning for Sunday to avoid another large gathering at the park.
“We want to make sure that people can get outside,” Cressy said. “But if people don’t respect the rules, we can’t allow it to happen.”
“You’re putting yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and your friends at risk. So, grow up.”
The city said additional officers have been deployed to problematic parks, including Trinity Bellwoods. However, some officers told CP24 that it was impossible to enforce by-laws given the thousands of people who have descended upon the downtown park.
Toronto police Const. Alex Li said it is challenging for officers to go into large crowds safely and enforce the law.
“I am aware that there are officers there, as well as the city by-law officers that are on the scene. They are monitoring the situation,” Li said.
“But again, we want to reiterate the fact that please do continue practicing physical distancing.”
Toronto doctor Abdu Sharkawy posted a video on Twitter, voicing his dismay with what occurred at the park.
“I’m really saddened when I see that because I wonder if those people know the sacrifices that people like myself, my colleagues in the emergency room and the ICU are making to allow you to have the freedom to spend your day out in the sun, in parks,” he said.
Sharkawy, who was not able to celebrate Eid al-Fitr with his family because he was treating COVID-19 patients, said he does not want to see his ICU filled up with sick people in another few weeks.
“Every single one of us is responsible for each other. It doesn’t matter whether it says doctor before your name or not, we have to do better.”