Toronto pandemic enforcement

Toronto mayor says there aren't enough cops to fully enforce lockdown rules

Every day for weeks now, government and public health officials have been chastising the behaviour of people who flout lockdown measures to visit friends outside their households.

Illegal social gatherings continue to take the blame for the majority of community spread in Toronto as COVID-19 numbers spike, and reports of illicit gatherings surface constantly on social media.

"COVID-19 is now spreading at levels so serious that it is hard to describe," said the city's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, during a press conference on Monday of the fast-rising case count.

"What we are seeing now is the consequence of too many people spending too much time together in December and in particular during the holidays."

With 3,338 new cases of the coronavirus added to Ontario's total overnight — more than 900 of them from Toronto — that's a lot of people mixing (or mixing with people who've been mixing.)

And yet, charges were laid in relation to only 20 gatherings over the holiday break. Twenty parties! And they weren't even all necessarily parties, but "large gatherings on private property."

In some Toronto neighbourhoods, nearly double that number of raucous gatherings could be witnessed through windows (and heard through walls) on New Year's Eve alone.

So what gives? If social gatherings are contributing to the spread of COVID-19 as much as officials keep saying they are, why are so few people actually getting dinged for breaking the rules?

When asked something to this effect during Monday's pandemic briefing, Toronto Mayor John Tory revealed that it's not for lack of interest, but lack of resources and the sheer impossibility of controlling 2.9 million people.

"When you see some of the phone data we've seen in the last number of days showing tens of thousands of people before Christmas, having been asked not to travel back and forth between different parts of the region, were going shopping at shopping plazas when Toronto was in a state of lockdown... you immediately recognize that that that is something that's just not enforceable," said the mayor.

"If that was a law and you were trying to enforce it, we don't have enough people to do it."

Tory did, however, note that police and bylaw enforcement officers are "using their discretion" and that he'd like to see more people punished for their actions.

Under the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA), any individual caught hosting an illegal gathering could face a fine between $10,000 and $100,000, plus up to a year in prison, upon conviction. 

Someone caught attending a gathering can receive fines ranging from $750 to $100,000.

"I've expressed the view before that I'd like to see a few more tickets written, and even now I still would, because I think some of the people that attend these parties should feel the sting of a $750 or $800 ticket for having, if nothing else, the ignorance to go to something like that," said Tory on Monday.

"But in the end, you can have all the rules you want... there's only so much that we can do given the number of people we have. And police have many other things to be doing."

Lead photo by

Jason Hargrove

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