outdoor gathering limit toronto

People in Toronto are straight up ignoring outdoor gathering rules at this point

If you happened to be out and about in Toronto this weekend (for essential purposes, of course) you may have noticed that parks, trails, sidewalks, front lawns, backyards and beaches were packed.

This would have been entirely unremarkable on a sunny spring day before COVID-19 came into the picture, but struck some people as alarming given that Ontario remains under under stay-at-home orders amid a deadly third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

What they (and you) should note is that outdoor recreation is allowed, if not even encouraged under the provincial government's current shutdown rules — albeit with restrictions in place that some people don't seem to understand or, perhaps, care about.

Photos and video footage of large outdoor gatherings spilled across social media this weekend, sparking debate over what people are and should be allowed to do in Toronto right now.

"Right now there is a young Olympic Athlete Champion fighting for his life in London Ontario hospital with one of the variance of COVID," wrote one person in response to images of people using public outdoor exercise equipment. "These people need to go to the f*** home, stay home."

"It really is time to open up all outdoor activities," wrote another. "Think it's not safe stay away from them. If you feel safe, go for it and do your best to follow best practices. The city should post signs about masking, distancing and supply hand sanitizer and wipes. You are responsible for you."

Parks, beaches, playgrounds, public washrooms, off-leash dog parks and benches in recreational areas are legal to use right now, but with strict limitations in place.

Exercise is considered essential, so you can't get in trouble for jogging or riding your bike around town. Technically, you could even set up a picnic in the park to enjoy some sunshine and fresh air, so long as you stick with members of your own household and stay at least six feet away from all other people.

What you can't do is actually use many of the amenities within Toronto's parks. 

Picnic tables, shelters, basketball courts, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, lawn bowling greens, disk golf courses, regular golf courses, skate ramps, dry pads and outdoor fitness equipment are all prohibited under the current stay-at-home order, which is set to remain in effect for at least three more weeks across the province.

Using banned amenities for the purpose of fitness doesn't invalidate any rules, meaning that you can't cry "essential exercise!" if busted participating in outdoor group sports.

But it doesn't really seem like anybody is being busted for anything at all, in terms of outdoor gatherings.

Signs and barriers on facilities such as tennis courts are now being broken or ignored as people decide that playing sports is worth what seems like a miniscule risk of being ticketed.

Fences around cherry blossom trees in places like Trinity Bellwoods Park and High Park are similarly being disregarded by many visitors.

I can personally report that the slackline poles are Bellwoods were getting plenty of use on Friday and Saturday.

And that, once again, hundreds of anti-lockdowners gathered to stage a "freedom march" in protest of government orders as police watched on calmly.

While police did temporarily have enhanced powers to enforce lockdown rules in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has since apologized for and reversed the move.

Even when they did have the power to randomly stop anyone and demand to know why they were out of the house, however, police in Toronto vowed not to do so.

Instead, last Wednesday, the service announced that it would send out "dedicated enforcement teams" to "respond to reports of large gatherings which jeopardize the health and safety of our community."

Outdoor social gatherings are completely prohibited right now in Ontario, with exceptions for people who live together plus one other resident who lives alone, but police seem more concerned about indoor gatherings at this point — which some would say is prudent considering what scientists say about how low the risk of spreading COVID-19 outside is.

"Our divisional teams will focus on large gatherings that fail to comply with the emergency orders, with a particular focus on indoor gatherings such as parties at short-term rentals or at bars and restaurants," said TPS Staff Superintendent Randy Carter last week of enforcement efforts.

"Everyone must do their part to protect our health and safety, and for police that means continuing to enforce equitably and effectively."

Lead photo by

Toronto Papi

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