People in Toronto don't think they should be ticketed for sitting on park benches
Toronto police have been out enforcing proper social distancing in public spaces since the beginning of this month, and have issued dozens of tickets and hundreds of warnings so far.
There has been an increased police presence in parks as officers ensure that people are maintaining a two metre distance from one another, are not gathering in groups, and are not using park amenities like playgrounds and sports courts that are now closed to the public.
Though "picnic areas" are listed among the equipment that people are forbidden to use right now, many don't realize that this means they aren't allowed to sit on park benches.
Just came off a walk in #Toronto park. By-law officers writing tickets for sitting on a bench. @JohnTory @fordnation stop this lunacy of ticket writing. If carried on for too long, there will be backlash. Please focus on testing, tracing and isolating of #coronavirus.— rishi (@fullofrishi) April 7, 2020
The City of Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards notice of non-compliance for actions that go against the province's emergency order to close park amenities states that "every person who enters or uses an outdoor recreational amenity may be charged with an offence under section 7.0.11. of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act."
Under the provincial act, punishment can range from fines of anywhere from $750 to $100,000, to even one year in jail, though Mayor John Tory has said that people caught violating social distancing directives in Toronto parks or public squares will only be liable "for a fine of up to $5,000."
One Toronto man made headlines earlier this week for getting an $880 ticket after he was caught doing chin-ups at his local park. People can also be fined for not identifying themselves to police in public spaces when asked.
But at the moment, if you sit down on a park bench in Toronto, a bylaw officer will ticket you. I wish I was joking.— Norman (((flatcurve))) WilsonⓂ️ (@oclsc) April 15, 2020
Torontonians are definitely taking issue with some aspects of this new enforcement — mainly the fact that they could be ticketed for "normal park things" such as working out or simply stopping to sit and rest on a bench by themselves, neither of which seem to be in contravention of current social distancing rules.
Though the City of Toronto website does note that parks are not completely closed off and that "park and ravine green spaces remain accessible," equipment like benches (or chin-up bars) do indeed fall under the "amenities" people are now prohibited to use.
I don’t know anything about Toronto. The complaint I hear from people there is they’re getting ticketed for normal park things like sitting on a bench or a blanket or rollerblading.— Doug Saunders (@DougSaunders) April 14, 2020
Citizens have confirmed this to be the case with non-emergency municipal services operators at 311 Toronto, noting that parks are, essentially, closed "unless you're using [them] as a shortcut from A to B."
#Toronto is telling its citizens you can't sit alone on a bench in a public park. cc: @dougsaunders https://t.co/aKCumY34vc— Taras Grescoe (@grescoe) April 13, 2020
As some have pointed out, though, allowing people to use certain park amenities for certain things could quickly become a slippery slope, and objectively banning the use of all equipment at all times is the most safe and logical step amid the pandemic.
As one Twitter user stated, "1 becomes 2 becomes 5 becomes 10. Everybody'll want some fresh air on a park bench."
1 becomes 2 becomes 5 becomes 10. Everybody’ll want some fresh air on a park bench. Isolation & distancing is for everyone. #Toronto’s seen a spike in #COVID19 cases today. It’s the desire for fresh air in park benches that’s partly or ‘moistly’ responsible. Stay home.— Ferrol El. (@FerrolEl) April 16, 2020
As the weather continues to get nicer, there's no doubt that residents will be encountering more and more police out ensuring that people aren't congregating, aren't going out for more than essentials like groceries and exercise, and aren't going against any other COVID-19 orders — orders that include not sitting on park benches.
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