City moves to let ward councillors choose closing time for parks
OTTAWA -- City staff say local councillors will be able to decide for themselves when parks in their ward close amid the Ontario government's provincial stay-at-home order.
In a memo to city councillors, sent Wednesday, City Manager Steve Kanellakos said the city may temporarily change the hours at select city parks with agreement from the ward councillor.
"In an effort to reinforce the provincial restrictions, and with concurrence from the Ward Councillor, the City may reduce hours at certain problematic parks," Kanellakos wrote. "Opening hours in those problematic parks will continue to be 5 a.m., however, the parks will close and all persons required to leave by 9 p.m. or earlier, seven days a week. Signs will be posted at any park with reduced hours."
Parks are allowed to be open under Ontario's stay-at-home order, but outdoor events are capped at a maximum of five people.
Kanellakos said that bylaw officers would continue to respond to all complaints in city parks and that park ambassadors would begin visiting parks later this week to reinforce public health measures and identify issues.
Speaking to reporters following Wednesday's city council meeting, Mayor Jim Watson said the larger parks in the city are typically where problems arise.
"There's six or seven parks that consistently have challenges with people staying later in the evening and what's going to happen now is all members of council are going to be asked if they have parks that they feel that this would be helpful," he said. "I think this is a very good compromise between an all-out reduction in every park. Most parks do not have problems; let's focus on the specific parks that we continuously get a number of calls on and deal with those in a prudent manner."
The discussion around closing parks was raised after images of beer bottles and garbage strewn about Vincent Massey Park on the weekend caught the attention of Watson and local councillors.
Ottawa Bylaw and Regulatory Services responded to 443 requests for service over the weekend. Officers issued 16 charges for violating Provincial Orders and the Temporary Mandatory mask Bylaw.
Ten charges were also issued under Provincial Orders in relation to gatherings in private residences.
Watson told CTV Morning Live on Tuesday that he was considering closing parks at 8 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. and requiring that people wear masks in parks.
But some councillors raised concerns that limiting access to parks city-wide could negatively impact residents who do not have access to front or back yards or who are homeless.
The memo sent Wednesday says the decision will instead by made by the local ward councillor on a case-by-case basis. Councillors are asked to contact the city's manager of cultural and recreational facilities, Dan Chenier, if they wish to change the hours of parks in their wards.
"Residents are reminded that under the province-wide Stay-at-Home order, the public is required to remain at home except for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), for outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely," Kanellakos said.
Anthony Di Monte, the city's manager of emergency and protective services, told reporters that changing the closing time of some parks to 9 p.m. from 11 p.m. would make enforcement easier for bylaw and police officers who respond to large gatherings.
"That makes a big different from enforcement. We're not arriving at 11 o'clock when it's dark, the crowds are there, and it's rowdy. We're able to intervene in a different environment," he said.
Di Monte said bylaw and Ottawa police officers always have discretion to decide whether to issue tickets.
"If you're walking through to go to get transit, that's not the issue. What we're talking about is groups gathering, partying, doing bonfires, that type of behaviour. This gives us a tool to intervene rapidly and not wait until after dark."
Di Monte added that for NCC properties, such as Vincent Massey Park, the National Capital Commission would follow the city's lead.
"Any calls that come in at those sites will be referred back to the NCC. They're going to be adjusting their posture and they will be intervening in their parks or parkways," he said.
Di Monte suggested the RCMP or Ottawa police would intervene in cases of complaints on NCC property and not Ottawa Bylaw.