Province backtracks on playground closures, random police stops

Local police will focus on businesses/restaurants, complaints, illegal public gatherings 

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Now that random stops are off the table, OPP officers will focus on businesses and restaurants, complaints from the public and unlawful public gatherings.

On April 16 Premier Doug Ford and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones announced that as part of sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions, police could randomly stop residents on the street or in their vehicles and require them to provide their address and the reason for being out.

The province backtracked on the new police powers the next day, following strong public backlash and an outright refusal by some police forces to conduct random stops.

Now police may stop individuals only if they are suspected of participating in an organized event or social gathering.

“They may require you to provide information to ensure you are complying with restrictions,” reads an April 17 statement from the Solicitor General’s office.

The province also backtracked on closing playgrounds.

The OPP, which originally reiterated its officers had the power to conduct random stops but never actually stated if they would happen, clarified following the province’s about-face that OPP officers would concentrate on businesses/restaurants, complaints and illegal gatherings.

While “requesting that Ontarians voluntarily comply with the new emergency orders … to limit transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” OPP officials noted officers will issue a $750 fine to those found to be non-compliant.

“Consistent with the new emergency orders, OPP officers will not arbitrarily stop an individual or a vehicle, or enter a dwelling for the singular purpose of checking compliance with the order,” states the April 18 press release.

“Individuals are not expected to provide proof of essential work. Officers who believe an individual may be participating in a gathering that is prohibited may require the individual to provide information to determine whether or not they are in compliance.”

Other new restrictions introduced on April 16 include:

  • outdoor public gatherings prohibited and Ontarians can only gather with members of their own household;
  • all in-store shopping (namely at pharmacies, grocery stores and convenience stores) limited to 25% capacity;
  • outdoor amenities such as golf courses, sports fields/courts, BMX/skateparks, picnic areas and outdoor fitness equipment must close;
  • capacity at places of worship limited to 10 people indoors and outdoors (including for weddings, funerals, etc.);
  • all non-essential construction prohibited; and
  • inter-provincial travel prohibited, with a few exceptions.

Wellington County OPP spokesperson Kirk MacDonald confirmed “it’s pretty much status quo” for local OPP officers.

Guelph Police, fines

Guelph Police, one of the forces to state right away on April 16 that its officer would not be conducting random stops, stressed it will focus on unnecessary travel and prohibited gatherings.

Police and bylaw officers in the city “have and will issue charges and fine people or businesses that blatantly, repeatedly or deliberately violate provincial regulations and public health guidelines,” states an April 18 statement from the force.

The release again stressed that city officials “will not randomly stop vehicles or individuals.”

“Most people and businesses in Guelph are following the guidelines and doing their part to protect themselves, their families and our community,” states the Guelph Police release.

“Despite several recent changes to regulations and guidelines, most people understand the underlying idea is to stay home if possible, avoid unnecessary travel and avoid contact with people they don’t live with.”

Both the OPP and Guelph Police are reminding residents that:

  • failure to comply with restrictions can result in a minimum fine of $750;
  • obstructing an authority or individual from enforcing or complying with an order can be fined $1,000; and
  • hosting parties or gatherings in violation of the regulations can result in a maximum fine of $10,000 on conviction.