Ottawa Bylaw handed out five fines, five warnings since start of stay-at-home order
OTTAWA -- It appears most people in Ottawa are staying home as ordered by the provincial government, with Ottawa Bylaw saying they handed out a small number of fines this past weekend.
A provicewide stay-at-home order came into effect on Jan. 14, requiring all residents of Ontario stay home unless it is necessary to leave for essential reasons, such as going to work, getting groceries, visiting the doctor or a pharmacy, or getting outside for some exercise.
Ottawa Bylaw told CTV News that five $880 fines were issued between Jan. 14 and Jan. 17 under the Reopening Ontario Act. Four were for indoor gatherings at private residences and one was for an open non-essential business. Five verbal warnings were also issued.
Bylaw officers responded to 210 calls in that time.
Speaking to Newstalk 580 CFRA's "Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts", Ottawa deputy police chief Steve Bell said since the order came into effect, there haven't been any tickets issued by his officers.
However, Bell noted Ottawa Police support Ottawa Bylaw in their enforcement efforts.
Bell told CFRA that police have had thousands of interactions with the public since the pandemic began last March but the number of tickets his officers have issued has been low.
"Overwhelmingly, our community has done a really good job managing through the pandemic," he said. "Since the beginning, we've laid 29 tickets through provincial offenses notices since March of last year."
Bell said that, for the most part, enforcement by police is reserved for blatant violators.
"Our officers are out there working with the community, making sure they understand the provisions of the order. Sometimes it's a lack of knowledge," he said. "We will escalate to warnings, when appropriate, and in certain circumstances, if someone is just flagrantly denying the provisions of the order, we will go to enforcement. It's usually around people we've been to a couple of times, or people who are blatantly in defiance of the order."
Bell says the order does not give police the authority to stop someone and question them about why they're outside, but he says, during other routine investigations, the questions may come up.
"If we are engaged with someone, whether it be through a traffic stop or other regular activities the officers may be involved in, they'll start to layer on these questions," he said. "We've trained our officers on exactly where they can apply it and how they go about managing it and they're engaging in that as they go through their regular course of duties."
The stay-at-home order does not require anyone to provide written proof about their reasons for being outside and Bell said officers would take residents at their word about why they've gone out.
Proactive enforcement, such as noticing a large gathering at a sledding hill, for example, is usually educational to start, Bell said.
"If they see something like that, often it's a matter of education. Go to the group, educate them on the fact that they shouldn't be together and, largely, we get compliance with that," he said. "When we do escalate to enforcement is when we see the same people at the toboggan hill or gathering time and time again, or people that just refuse to understand or abide by the rules."
Bell says, despite the early confusion over what is or is not essential, he believes the order's main message is a simple one.
"The overriding message is stay at home for the good of the community," he said. "This is a public health crisis and you're not going to enforce your way out of it. We need to have people understand the ramifications of what they're doing. Enforcement is a tool, but we actually have to get the hearts and minds of our community understanding that it's absolutely important that we abide by this so we can get through this."