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Ontario tightens some gathering limits in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region

Thursday, September 17, 2020 @ 4:31 PM | By John Schofield

The Ontario government has delivered on its promise to ratchet back social gathering restrictions and increase fines as it tries to slam the door on pandemic-flouting parties and curb the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases.

At a Sept. 17 afternoon news conference, Premier Doug Ford announced that the number of people permitted to attend unmonitored social gatherings and organized public events in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region, just west of Toronto, will be reduced to 10 for indoor gatherings and 25 for outdoor gatherings. The previous limit under stage 3 in those areas was 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.

The amended order under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, comes into effect on Sept. 18 at 12:01 a.m. and will apply to functions, parties, dinners, gatherings, barbecues or wedding receptions held in private residences, backyards, parks and other recreational areas, according to an Sept. 17 news release.

The reduced limits will not apply to gatherings at staffed businesses or facilities such as bars, restaurants, cinemas, convention centres, banquet halls, gyms, or recreational, sporting or performing arts events, according to the news release.

At the same time, Ford announced that the minimum fine for people who organize get-togethers at private residences that violate the new restrictions will now be $10,000, along with a $750 fine for those who attend such gatherings.

The fine is included in the new amendment to the Reopening Ontario Act, which, if passed, will create a new offence for hosting or organizing a gathering in residential premises or other prescribed premises that exceeds the limits.

The amendment will also give the Lieutenant Governor in Council authority to prescribe additional types of premises for the purpose of the new offence. And authority has also been given to a police officer, special constable or First Nations constable to order the temporary closure of a premise “where there are reasonable grounds to believe that any gathering exceeding the number of people allowed is taking place and require individuals to leave the premises,” the news release states.

“This is a serious situation, folks,” Ford said in the news conference. “We will throw the book at you if you break the rules and we can’t afford to let a few rule-breakers reverse all the hard work and progress the people of Ontario have made over the past six months.”

Ford said Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region were targeted because that’s where the number of COVID-19 cases is rising the fastest. Ontario reported 293 new cases on Sept 17.

“The fact is the public health trends in three regions in Ontario ... are concerning,” he noted. “We’ve seen two days this week of over 300 new cases within a 24-hour period.”

But Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the public health measures table of experts is carefully monitoring the data across Ontario.

“While we have these three, it doesn't mean these will be the only three,” he said in response to a reporter’s question. “We made some recommendations at this time to deal with the areas of most increase and difficulty. Some are not having a problem with this, some are.”

At the same news conference, Ford also announced that the Ontario government has introduced the Helping Tenants and Small Businesses Act, which, if passed, will freeze rent in 2021 for most rent-controlled and non-rent-controlled residential units.

“The crisis is far from over and the threat of a second wave is real, as are the challenges it will bring,” Ford said in an accompanying, Sept. 17 news release. “That’s why we need to take the necessary steps now to help families keep a roof over their heads and small businesses keep their doors open.”

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