Toronto bylaw enforcement officers have issued more than 1,675 tickets since the start of the pandemic and the city says residents should know the rules by now when it comes to complying with restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s too late in the game to be uneducated,” says Carleton Grant, executive director of municipal licensing and standards for the city of Toronto.
“I think everyone should be aware of what’s happening and what the rules are. That’s why our enforcement model shifts all the time but it has moved from an education one to an enforcement one to charges.”
According to data provided by the city, it has received thousands of complaints about people and businesses not following COVID-19 protocol since March.
Although some pundits have criticized the city for not cracking down harder, as have other jurisdictions, Grant defended the city’s record on enforcement in the past nine months.
‘These are not parking tickets’
Grant said there are many provincial laws and municipal bylaws in place, all designed to reduce community transmission of the virus, and the city wants to make any charges actually stick.
“These are not parking tickets. It’s significantly different and a lot more complex,” Grant said.
“It’s important to know that enforcement is a process. It’s not immediate. There are a number of steps that take place. It’s complicated. It can be perceived by the public as simple,” he said.
“It is anything but simple. And in order to lay charges you have to do it in such a way that you gather the evidence and that those charges are going to stick. We are not going to charge for the sake of charging. We want our charges to stick and be effective.”
The rules, however, have changed frequently throughout the past nine months.
On Nov. 23, Toronto moved into the province’s grey lockdown zone and that means there are restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, rules for restaurants, limits on religious services, funerals and weddings, and restrictions on retail stores and malls.
Grant said bylaw enforcement officers are issuing tickets more frequently now than they were in the early days when they were trying to educate people.
“Our goal is always to gain compliance. These are the rules. You need to be aware of the rules. Please follow them. Failure to follow them after a warning is going to end up in a charge.”
The city has 200 bylaw enforcement officers. At the start of the pandemic, about 92 per cent of its officers were focused on COVID-19 rule compliance, but that number is now closer to 60 per cent, he said.
Toronto police take the lead on cracking down on large gatherings. Toronto Public Health takes the lead on inspecting bars and restaurants, while the city’s municipal licensing and standards division takes the lead on ensuring compliance in parks and businesses deemed non-essential.
One Toronto councillor, however, believes the city needs more bylaw officers.
Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, who represents Ward 16, Don Valley East, said there weren’t enough bylaw enforcement officers before the pandemic hit.
The city has a lot of problems with short-term rentals, rooming houses and property inspections, but bylaw enforcement officers are overworked because there isn’t enough staff.
“The size of enforcement is just staggering,” he said.
Minnan-Wong pointed out, for example, that there are thousands of restaurants in Toronto. There are also businesses, parks, public spaces, and in the summer, there were beaches to monitor. The city has only 200 bylaw enforcement officers for the entire city, he said.
“I think what we do is we try to do the best we can with the resources that we have,” he said. “I think, at a general level, the city needs more officers.”
Complaints should be addressed, councillor says
But he said the city needs to respond more quickly and effectively to enforce bylaw infractions.
“I think the community is getting a little annoyed and concerned that, when there’s a law written, it’s not being enforced,” he said.
“If that law is not being enforced, there’s no use in having it. Because if no one’s going to enforce the law, the residents shouldn’t even bother calling in. And then you just have people doing whatever they want in the community. And that doesn’t that doesn’t make sense,” he said.
“The residents of the city of Toronto should expect a certain level and a certain standard. That means when they call in for a regular complaint, that they should they should expect that it’s going to be taken seriously,” he added.
“I think the residents feel that they’re not taken seriously and that that leads to a certain level of frustration. And they’re entitled to get their complaints addressed.”
Restrictions now in place in Toronto include:
- No indoor gatherings with anyone outside a person’s household, but individuals who live alone can have close contact with one other household.
- Outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people.
- Restaurants are limited to take-out, drive-through and delivery only.
- Religious services, funerals and weddings are limited to 10 people indoors or 10 people outdoors.
- Non-essential retail and malls are limited to curbside pickup or delivery only.
- Pharmacies, doctor and dentist offices, grocery stores, essential services and schools remain open.
- Gyms are closed.
- All indoor recreational programming provided by the city of Toronto is cancelled.
The city has produced a “COVID-19: Lockdown Guide for Toronto Residents” to help people sort out do’s and don’ts in these lockdown times.