London doctor objects to city's $880 fine calling it 'punitive'

A London physician who works on the front lines says he was shocked to get a ticket for $880 on Saturday for tossing around some tennis balls with his children in one of the city’s parks.

Dr. Mark Goldszmidt says he should have been given a warning, not a fine, for violating emergency orders

Doidge Park is where Mark Goldszmidt was issued a fine Saturday April 25 for breaking provincial emergency orders. Two days later, CBC London watched kids playing in the tennis court, as well as dog walkers throwing balls. (Andrew Lupton/ CBC News)

A London doctor working on the front lines says he was shocked to get an $880 ticket for unknowingly breaking social distancing rules after he was caught throwing a ball with his kids alone in one of the city's parks.

Dr. Mark Goldszmidt said he was disturbed to learn the city is taking a "punitive" approach toward violators, instead of educating first-time offenders with warnings related to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. 

Goldszmidt, an internal medicine specialist at London Health Sciences Centre, is one of 33 Londoners to be fined since the rules were put in place in early April. Five businesses have also been penalized. 

Dr. Mark Goldszmidt was on call all of last week in hospital. He did not realize he could not go to a park, even if it was empty, unless he was only walking through it. (Supplied)

Saturday was Goldszmidt's first day off after a week of being on-call at the hospital, and his kids asked him if they could go to a park to burn off energy. He says he knew playgrounds and courts were off limits but he did not realize the rules extended to the entire space. 

He says he prides himself on understanding the importance of physical distancing, which he practises at work and at home with his family.

When he found Doidge Park next to St. Joseph's Hospital empty, he figured it was a good place to let loose. He also notes he did not see any signs warning them away. 

Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, the city has closed playgrounds, golf courses, skate parks and dog parks.

Parks are open but only for walking through. Trails are also open so long as people don't stop and keep their distance.

"The thing that bothered me the most was that this wasn't about education. This was about punishment, as if I had done a criminal activity. I'm worried that other people, particularly those who can't afford this, are going to have the same experience that I did."

Chief Municipal Law Enforcement Officer Orest Katolyk said the city is focused on education through websites and social media. He says there are also signs around parks, including on trails where social distancing is in effect.

"While I can't comment on a specific occurrence, I can say that our officers have full discretion to issue warnings or Provincial Offence Notices in situations where individuals are found breaching Provincial Orders," Katolyk wrote in an email.

Many people access Doidge Park by going down the hill. There were no signs Monday along the top indicating the park is closed. (Andrew Lupton/ CBC News)

Goldszmidt is contesting the ticket, opting for a meeting with a city prosecutor to negotiate a resolution. He's also written to Mayor Ed Holder expressing his frustration.

"I didn't have a warning and I don't think [the public] is educated well enough. I think there needs to be a better strategy for handling this. If people are doing stuff that they're not aware of, first try to educate."

Goldszmidt also thinks there should be signs at the entrance to every park warning of the emergency orders.