Burlington restricts drive-by parades as more people leave home during COVID-19

Vehicle parades of more than five people have technically always been illegal under provincial emergency orders, but the rules haven’t been enforced on parades — until now.

The city is concerned parades could spread COVID-19 and impact traffic safety, Premier Ford says it's too far

The drive-by parades with more than five vehicles have technically always been illegal under provincial emergency orders. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

When Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward attended a drive-by parade with more than 150 vehicles during COVID-19, she had a feeling something wasn't right.

"I thought, 'There are some potential logistical challenges here' and they wanted to do it again this Saturday to a larger number of homes and they expected more vehicles … it had gotten to a scale that was really unmanageable," she said.

"One-hundred and fifty vehicles going down narrow residential streets with kids playing on the streets, tying up traffic, there was no police escort. There was no advance notice it was really a parade, a special event, without any parameters around it."

Now, the city of Burlington is discouraging drive-by parades with more than five people, as residents continue to leave their homes to honk and cheer from their vehicles, celebrating milestones, health-care workers and long-term care residents during COVID-19.

The city released a statement on Thursday, citing provincial emergency orders that say people can't gather in groups of more than five.

Vehicle parades are also limited to just a single household or immediate family.

Focus is on safety, not fines

Meed-Ward said in a statement where she acknowledged her own experience, that people need to think twice before they participate in another.

"These parades have been an awesome idea when they've been kept to a certain scale — unfortunately, the larger they get, the harder it is to maintain physical distancing and keep health and safety protocols in place."

The vehicle parades have become a way to lift people's spirits as COVID-19 keeps communities on lockdown, but the parades have grown in size, which means more people are leaving home.

They have technically always been illegal, but the rules haven't been enforced on parades — until now.

"They can continue to do these parades but we're asking for it to be really scaled back into a much smaller way," Meed Ward said. 

"While I think everybody was disappointed, [they] completely understand, they're totally onboard and you know people will figure out a way to do this in a better way."

Neighbours and others in Fort Erie, Ont., drove by Burdett Sisler’s home to celebrate his 105th birthday — Burlington will be trying to scale back on parades like these. (Submitted by Norm and Matt Sisler)

Halton police Chief Stephen Tanner said the focus is on traffic safety, not enforcement.

"When it comes to small scale parades, and dependent on operational needs and priorities, if our members can in some small way brighten the life of a child on his or her birthday, or help another celebrate a 100th birthday that, to us, is service," Tanner said in a statement.

The city statement also said first responders will still participate in hospital salutes on the first Friday of each month, noting they have other procedures in place and public vehicles can't participate. 

Premier Doug Ford, however, thinks the measure is extreme.

"If everyone is in their car, who are they bothering? You have to celebrate a little bit," he said.

"Let's be a little lenient on stuff like that, I'd understand if there were groups of people marching down the street side-by-side chanting, but that's not the case. They're in individual cars, driving by, what does it last, a few minutes?"

Ford said he spoke with Burlington MPP Jane McKenna who agreed with him, but Ford said the choice ultimately lies with Meed Ward.

Recommendations for throwing a parade include:

  • Remaining in your vehicle during the entire event.

  • No interacting or gathering with individuals outside of the vehicles.

  • Ensuring only household members are in the vehicles.

  • Reducing the need for in-person coordination by providing written or telephone directions in advance.

  • Limiting the distance they are driving.

  • Considering limiting the number of vehicles permitted.

  • Continuing to follow the rules of the road.

  • Following relevant local regulations with respect to events/parades.

Funerals are an exception, with 10 people allowed to gather together.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

With files from Nathan Crocker and Linda Ward