Ottawa

Can you gather with 5 friends outside? The short answer: no

A week into the latest stay-at-home order, people are still scratching their heads about the five-person social gathering allowance. Here's your answer.

You can't socialize with friends in your backyard or outside

People sit in Ottawa's Major's Hill Park April 10, 2021, the first weekend under that provincewide stay-at-home order. You should not gather with friends outdoors during the stay-at-home order, says the province. (Rémi Authier/Radio-Canada)

OK, we get it. Ontario's guidelines on social gatherings are not clear, and perhaps at times to the benefit of those who want to skirt around rules.

Can you gather with five friends outdoors to exercise? In your backyard? At a park? Or is it just five members of your household? 

There's no wonder people are confused, because three different documents from the Ontario government point out different rules and recommendations. According to the province's official order in council, a gathering can only happen when it's allowed by law. The legal document doesn't mention the five-people rule at all. Neither does an Ontario government news release dated April 7, which states that people are asked only to leave their homes for essential purposes.

But then there's province's information web page called, "COVID-19 public health measures and advice", which simply states under its events and social gathering limits: "Outside: 5 people."

Here's some clarity this week from Stephen Warner, spokesperson for the Ontario solicitor general's office: "individuals can gather in groups [of] no more than five people, only for the reasons enumerated in the stay at home order."

What are those reasons

According to the province's rules, the outdoor gathering limit of five people applies to organized public events or social gatherings that are allowed by law — wedding receptions, for example.

Funerals and other religious gatherings are also reasons people are allowed to gather. Indoor rules for these events are capped at 15 per cent capacity of the space. 

For wedding ceremonies, funerals and other religious gatherings, strangers or friends can gather as long as they physically distance and wear masks. Wedding receptions, however, are capped at five people outside.

There are more fine-print essential reasons you may possibly need to gather during the order, but the main rule is: stay at home.

Don't gather with friends

You can't gather with anyone you don't live with indoors. If you live alone, you can gather with one other household indoors or outdoors.

For more clarity, the province states people can exercise outdoors with household members within their communities.

That means your household members can gather in a group of five outdoors, whether that's for exercise or in your own backyard — but not with friends.

The regulations state you can still use outdoor areas such as backyards or balconies, or common areas like building courtyards or lobbies if they're open.

After reading this, if you need more certainty, here's what the province's legal order document says: "For greater certainty, nothing in this order permits an individual to gather with other individuals if the gathering is not permitted by law."

With files from Joanne Chianello

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