‘This is about lives’: Saunders says police will be out enforcing distancing laws this weekend
Toronto Police officers work an active crime scene in downtown Toronto in this file photo from Monday, March 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Published Friday, April 3, 2020 11:54AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 3, 2020 5:08PM EDT
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders says his officers will be out on foot, steed and bike this weekend to make sure that people across the city understand that they’re supposed to be maintaining proper physical space from one another in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“What you'll see in the parks over the course of the weekend – you’ll see a lot more uniformed officers, you’ll see our mounted unit, you’ll see some of our members on bikes and on foot, working with the bylaw officers. We’ll be enforcing social distancing or physical distancing,” Saunders told CP24 Friday.
Toronto’s medical officer of health said Thursday that it is “appalling” that despite an onslaught of information from health officials about the importance of physical distancing, some people in the city continue to gather to play sports, have play dates for their kids and to socialize outdoors.
On Thursday, Mayor John Tory agreed and said such “misbehaviour” puts lives at risk and prolongs the situation for everybody.
In the hope of hitting home the message for those who still aren’t getting it, Tory used his emergency powers for the first time Thursday to issue a bylaw prohibiting people from being closer than two metres (six feet) together in parks and squares, unless they live together.
Those violating the new bylaw could face tickets of $1,000 and fines of up to $5,000 upon conviction.
In addition, the province has issued a number of emergency edicts to enforce social distancing. They include a ban on gatherings of five or more people (excluding families), the closure of all outdoor recreational amenities and the closure of all non-essential businesses.
The province has also issued an order that anyone caught violating the emergency rules must correctly identify themselves to police.
Penalties for violating the province’s emergency orders include up to one-year imprisonment or a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director of a corporation, or $10 million for a corporation.
Police will be out this weekend enforcing both the new city bylaw and the provincial orders.
Saunders said that he hopes police will mainly be educating the public, but enforcement will be used for those who are determined to flout the rules.
“It's not about the money aspect or the punitive,” Saunders said. “The punitive is a component used to educate those that really want to take a hard line and not complying with social distancing.
“This is about lives, about saving lives and everyone playing that role which is so necessary if the city of Toronto is going to restore itself.”
Saunders said those who are stopped and refuse to identify themselves will be arrested and charged accordingly.