Here's where Ottawans are being fined for hanging out in parks

Jonathan Morris knows all too well the forbidden allure of Britannia Park — and judging from new City of Ottawa pandemic data, he's not alone.

Britannia Park tops the list of COVID-19 infractions

A person strolls through Britannia Park in Ottawa on April 23, 2020. According to data from the City of Ottawa, bylaw officers issued more tickets at the riverside park between April 3 and April 19 to people allegedly breaching state of emergency rules than at any other city-owned park. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Jonathan Morris knows all too well the forbidden allure of Britannia Park.

"The sunsets are fantastic," said Morris, president of the Britannia Village Community Association. "It's just nice to hang out in the park, breathe in the fresh air. We've got lots of birds here. It's just a nice natural environment."

The sprawling riverside park's splendour is proving hard to resist these days: according to City of Ottawa data for a two-and-a-half week period earlier this month, bylaw officers handed out more tickets for violating COVID-19 distancing rules there than at any other city-owned park.

The data shows bylaw officers ticketed 79 people across the city between April 3 and April 19 for allegedly violating orders issued under the Ontario Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act.

The majority of those fines — most of which amounted to $880 — were handed out in city parks, now considered off limits for any activity other than simply passing through.

Britannia Park was the scene of 10 infractions. 

That's more than twice as many as the next on the list, Jim Malone Park in Kanata, where four people received tickets. No other park saw more than three infractions during the period in question.

More than 2,800 calls

The number of tickets issued, however, gives only part of the picture.

Bylaw officers have responded to more than 2,800 "calls for service from the public" since April 3, right around the time the state of emergency rules went into effect, according to Roger Chapman, the city's director of bylaw and regulatory services.

Officers do have the discretion to hand out warnings rather than tickets, Chapman said.

While CBC Ottawa had asked for the locations of all calls, only those that resulted in fines were provided — although for a longer period than was originally requested.

"As a city, we must take every measure to slow the spread and protect our most vulnerable residents, which is why it is so important to uphold provincial orders," Chapman said in a statement.

While Britannia Park's natural beauty is one reason Morris believes it tops the city's statistics, it's not the only one: the neighbourhood is also home to a lot of apartment dwellers who don't have front lawns or backyards.

"I'd expect that there's a lot of people," Morris said, "that are just trying to get out."

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