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Big box blitz finds 36 stores violating Ontario lockdown orders

Police and bylaw enforcement officers busted dozens of large retail stores in and around the City of Toronto this weekend that were found to be in non-compliance with Ontario's current pandemic restrictions — though only a handful were actually fined for it.

Part of a previously-announced "big box blitz," the inspections took place on Saturday and Sunday, shortly after a new stay-at-home order came into effect across the province on January 14 at 12:01 a.m.

Store limits for discount and big box retailers selling groceries had already been lowered from 50 per cent to 25 per cent capacity on Boxing Day as part of a sweeping provincewide shutdown order, but few businesses had actually been charged for violating the rule prior to this weekend.

Ontario's Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development revealed that 31 of the 110 stores visited on Saturday alone had been found violating existing orders.

As a result, safety inspectors issued 11 fines and 11 more formal warnings.

Sunday's big box inspection blitz found another five stores violating public health orders, though the ministry did not say if any more fines or tickets were issued.

The Ministry similarly refrained from naming any of the non-compliant stores it identified this weekend.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton told CP24 that the inspectors were focusing particularly on the enforcement of physical distancing and the use of masks within stores.

All forms of law enforcement currently have the authority to temporarily close any facilities found to be in violation of current lockdown rules. They may also disperse any outdoor gathering in which more than five people are present, per the most-recent gathering limit (indoor social gatherings remain prohibited, save for those involving only members of the same household.)

Along with announcing a spate of additional lockdown measures for the provice of Ontario on Tuesday, including an official stay-at-home order, Premier Doug Ford made a promise to crack down on crowded big box stores to help reduce virus transmission in these settings.

"I've seen the crazy lineups. We need more enforcement in these stores," said Premier Doug Ford last week when announcing the big box store blitz.

"If we find any issues, there will be consequences. We'll come down hard if we have to, and this enforcement will continue as long as necessary."

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