yonge dundas

Yonge-Dundas Square just got some dystopian new billboards about unlawful gatherings

Yonge-Dundas Square, one of the Toronto's biggest tourist destinations and busiest intersections nestled in the heart of the downtown core, is currently displaying new messaging about COVID-19 restrictions that have some residents feeling like they're in George Orwell's 1984.

On the square's giant overhead billboards — interspersed between videos advertising it as an opportune spot for your next event and prompts to remain alert while texting and walking — are a few timely pandemic reminders from the city, including some familiar infographics asking residents to mask up and physically distance.

But then there is a slide that appears to be a new addition to the deck, on it some simple, sans-serif, stark white lettering in all capitals over a dark blue background, reading: "A COVID-19 SAFETY REMINDER: UNLAWFUL GATHERINGS ARE NOT PERMITTED." 

The signage also asks citizens to kindly report any non-compliance they witness to 311.

Despite the fact that we all know there have been some instances of blatant disregard for current gathering limits in the province, which prohibit indoor get-togethers and limit outdoor interactions to only members of the same household, people are finding the communications to be a bit unsettling and dystopian.

Responses to photos and videos of the billboards shared on Twitter Tuesday include "reeeaaaal big brother energy," "police state," "this is one of the spookiest images of the pandemic" and questions of whether the footage was for real.

"Combined with the grey skies, it is remarkably grim," one person aptly noted.

"I was really missing Toronto until this popped up on my timeline," another added.

As Ontario marks five weeks in yet another stay-at-home order and six weeks in a full emergency shutdown later this week amid talk that both will be extended longer than planned, it's undeniably pretty hard to remain hopeful that we'll be able to open up anytime soon, like much of the rest of the world seems to already be doing.

Though the vaccination program is finally speeding up, daily new case counts in the province still hover above 2,000.

Health Minister Christine Elliott has said this figure will need to get down to 1,000 or lower before anything can reopen further, which some officials feel is unlikely to happen before the end of the month.

Hopefully that will somehow happen before the start of summer proper before the state of the city's favourite local businesses and the mental well-being of its residents deteriorates even further.

Lead photo by

Becky Robertson

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