Stay-at-home order in effect, but questions about enforcement linger

A stay-at-home order is now in effect in Ontario, but it's not yet clear how officials in Ottawa will enforce it.

City officials, police poring over legal wording of new provincial restrictions

A sign in a window in Sudbury, Ont., last month mirrors the simplicity of the message Ontario Premier Doug Ford is trying to deliver as the province enters a stay-at-home order. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

A stay-at-home order is now in effect in Ontario, but it's not yet clear how officials in Ottawa will enforce it.

The Ontario government released the order itself on Wednesday evening, about five hours before it took effect at 12:01 a.m.

Municipalities and police services have been waiting to review that regulation since the province announced this new measure to curb what it called dangerous, increased spread of the coronavirus.

Neither the City of Ottawa, which employs bylaw officers and operates many outdoor recreation facilities, nor Ottawa police would comment Wednesday on circumstances under which they might intervene or ticket residents.

Each said they wanted to see and review the new regulation first.

Pandemic enforcement so far

Since last spring, City of Ottawa bylaw officers have taken the lead on enforcing most rules.

Those include earlier orders under Ontario's Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, such as limits on the sizes of gatherings, and local requirements to wear masks.

The bylaw department has received more than 13,800 calls for service since the pandemic began, but has issued only 350 tickets, according to director Roger Chapman.

More than 900 of those calls have come during the latest Ontario lockdown.

Of the 30 charges laid since Boxing Day, most have been $880 fines for illegal social gatherings and businesses being open when they're not allowed.

"We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone," said Chapman in a statement. "Officers continue to use their discretion and provide verbal warnings where possible."

Municipal bylaw officers have taken the lead on enforcing most pandemic restrictions so far in Ottawa, including past provincial orders on gatherings. They have issued 350 tickets for those and for contraventions of the local mandatory mask rule. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ottawa police, meanwhile, said Wednesday they would "continue to support Ottawa city bylaw officers in enforcing all provincial orders in relation to the pandemic".

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, said the police service made clear to its officers soon after the Ford government declared its first state of emergency last spring that they should not lay pandemic-related charges without first consulting their supervising sergeant and Ottawa Public Health.

He said he thinks bylaw officers are best placed to be the face of enforcement during the tensions of a pandemic. 

"In the context of strictly a [COVID-19] discussion, I think it's uncomfortable in society having the police with incredible authorities being the ones to go into direct conflict. It's not an added layer that any police officer would appreciate having added onto them."