Social Distancing Being Enforced with Fines

While the government of Ontario has extended the Emergency Declaration aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 into at least early May, reports of individuals being ticketed for not obeying the social distancing directive have been on the rise.

As individuals attempt to navigate their everyday lives amidst the sweeping changes implemented as a result of the declaration, determining exactly what is and what isn’t permissible while observing the newly established protocol still has many feeling confused or unduly restricted.

So far, Ontarians have been ticketed for activities such as using playground equipment, for playing sports, for rollerblading in a parking lot, and for other activities that would have been commonplace and part of a healthy active lifestyle only weeks ago. While the safest course of action for both avoiding the virus and a ticket seems to be staying home as much as possible, the Emergency Declaration is also not intended to be an indeterminate sentence of house arrest.

Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA)anyone who fails to comply with an emergency order or who interferes with or obstructs someone carrying out an obligation under an emergency order can be liable for a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director or officer of a corporation, and up to $1,000,000 for a corporation. Individuals may also be liable to face up to one year in prison for failing to comply with an order. While these numbers represent the strictest penalties available under the legislation, the number that seems to be attached to most of the tickets issued so far is $880.

The regulations under the EMCPA outline the rules we are expected to follow during this time of emergency. In terms of social distancing expectations, regulations 142/20 (which prohibits camping on public lands), 104/20 (closing outdoor recreational amenities), and 50/20 (limiting organized events and gatherings to 5 people or less) offer some guidance.

While most outdoor camping and recreation facilities are closed, it is still permissible to pass through those that are not blocked off. Walking through a park to get to an adjoining street is acceptable, but stopping to have a picnic or to play on a jungle gym or court is not. Importantly, the gathering restrictions do not apply to gatherings of members of a single household. Therefore, if there are six people who live together in a household, they are still permitted to gather together. The closure of recreational amenities, however, applies regardless of group size or a familial relationship so even one or two people caught using a closed amenity could be fined.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while the EMCPA is provincial legislation, many municipalities are also passing by-laws or emergency orders which provide further direction on how social distancing efforts are expected to take place. In some cases, this might mean more restrictive rules than those implemented by the provincial government.

The above article was prepared for general informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. If you have been issued a ticket for violating the emergency declaration or have questions about which activities are and are not permissible then reach out to one of our experienced lawyers today for more assistance.