Mayor apologizes for own behaviour at Trinity Bellwoods after city cracked down on 'dangerous' crowds

Thousands of people flooded a popular downtown park on Saturday. Enforcing physical distancing would have been 'impractical,' a city spokesperson says.

Thousands flooded the park Saturday, with some defecating on nearby properties, police said

Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's chief medical officer of health, condemned crowding in a popular downtown park on Saturday, calling the behaviour 'selfish' and noting that cases of COVID-19 in Toronto are still on the rise. (Dr. Eileen de Villa/Twitter )

Trinity Bellwoods Park was much quieter Sunday, after officials in Toronto increased enforcement and condemned the "selfish and dangerous" behaviour of people who flooded the downtown park on Saturday, saying it could cause a spike in COVID-19 cases and undo weeks of collective effort.

Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory is apologizing for his own failure to properly wear a mask and physically distance while at the park, saying he went there to determine why the situation was happening.

Thousands of people packed Trinity Bellwoods Park on one of the first warm days of the year, violating the city's physical distancing bylaw and relieving themselves in neighbours' laneways and backyards, police and the city say. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the images looked like a "rock concert," and made a plea on Sunday morning for any residents of the province to get tested — even if they don't have symptoms.

Mayor Tory condemned the crowds Saturday night, but faced criticism for images of him at the park apparently standing near other people with his face mask pulled down.

The mayor apologized Sunday evening, saying he visited the park to see why the situation was happening.

"I fully intended to properly physically distance but it was very difficult to do. I wore a mask into the park but I failed to use it properly, another thing I'm disappointed about." said Tory in a statement Sunday. 

"These were mistakes that I made and as a leader in this city, I know that I must set a better example going forward."

City issued 4 tickets at park on Saturday

Despite the huge crowds, city by-law officers issued just four tickets at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday, and 14 tickets across all city parks. 

It would have been "impractical" to enforce physical distancing with thousands of people in the park, said city spokesperson Brad Ross on Sunday. Their focus remains on educating the community, the city said.

Police issued tickets to people who were urinating and defecating on private laneways and backyards, said Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders. 

"When you've got an elderly woman opening the door and seeing someone defecating, it's quite bothersome," Saunders said.

A view of Trinity Bellwoods on Saturday afternoon

4 years ago
Duration 0:10
Crowds are seen in a popular downtown Toronto park on Saturday.

Saunders and Ross both expressed concerns about public drinking at the park.

"Yesterday, we were enforcing, but unfortunately the numbers were huge," said Saunders. Police did not immediately say how many tickets their officers issued. 

The city had 10 bylaw officers assigned to the park on Saturday, which increased to 28 on Sunday, "starting at staggered shifts," a spokesperson said. 

Ross said the city is working with Toronto Public Health on protocol for opening public washrooms in parks.

It was a much quieter Trinity Bellwoods Park on Sunday evening, after crowds flooded this patch of the park a day earlier. (Laura Howells/CBC)

City officials note uptick in COVID-19 cases

Tory and Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, condemned the crowds, with de Villa calling the behaviour of people there "selfish and dangerous."

She noted the city has seen an uptick in cases of COVID-19, reporting 258 new cases on Friday alone.

Trinity Bellwoods park in west Toronto was packed with people on Saturday, drawing the ire of public officials like Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Both Tory and de Villa praised some people's efforts to practice physical distancing at other parks, and Saunders acknowledged that people were acting responsibly in different areas of Trinity Bellwoods. 

Photos of the park drew much ire on social media, with Beck Taxi tweeting: "Please don't contact us for a ride home if you've spent the day at Trinity Bellwoods Park ignoring physical distancing rules."

'You will not be turned away' from COVID-19 test

Ford called a press conference Sunday morning partly in response to the crowds, urging Ontario residents to get tested for COVID-19 if they think they need it — even if they are asymptomatic. 

"I get it. It was a beautiful day ...I fully understand and that's why we opened the parks so people could get out there and enjoy the weather. But the images I saw — we just can't have that right now because there is still a deadly virus among us," Ford told reporters.

"I'm asking the people of Ontario, if you are worried if you have COVID-19, or that you've been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, even if you're not showing symptoms, please go get a test. You will not be turned away," Ford said.

Residents do not need an appointment, he said. The premier said the province has opened 129 COVID-19 assessment centres

"Let me reassure you, even if you or your family do not have symptoms, if you feel you need a test, you will be able to get a test. So please, don't wait. Our assessment centres are ready to receive you."

Photos and videos shared across social media platforms show hordes of people lounging in the park, apparently disregarding physical distancing regulations.

According to the mayor's office, both Tory and Coun. Joe Cressy went to the park separately yesterday to investigate.

"They are putting their own health at risk and by risking the spread of the virus to others, they could contribute to the kind of setback we are trying hard to avoid," Mayor John Tory said in a statement on Saturday. "I know from talking to them tonight these are smart people who simply have to do better going forward."

Trinity Bellwood Park in Toronto, May 23, 2020. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Breaking bylaw could cost up to $5K 

The city has made it illegal to come within two metres of someone from a different household in parks and public squares.

Those who break the bylaw could be handed a $1,000 ticket on the spot, though officers can also issue higher tickets — subject to the court system — in which fines go up to $5,000 on conviction.

The city more than doubled its number of bylaw officers at Trinity Bellwoods park on Sunday, after thousands packed the park on Saturday. (Laura Howells/CBC)

On Saturday, the city said its enforcement team issued 14 tickets to people violating the bylaw. That number was for all parks.

Toronto police told CBC News on Sunday that officers were reminding people about distancing, but not enforcing or issuing tickets themselves. On Sunday, Saunders underscored the importance of education before immediate enforcement.

City has issued 90 tickets since May 1

The city has issued 90 tickets and 5,009 cautions since May 1. The cautions are intended to educate people about the bylaw, the city said.

"More than 700 people from Toronto have tragically lost their lives due to COVID-19," a city statement reads.

"Public gatherings, like today's in Trinity Bellwoods Park, threaten to undo the difficult and challenging work residents of this city have done over the last 10 weeks in their collective effort to beat COVID-19."

Ross said there are no plans to close Trinity Bellwoods, or any city park.

"You can meet friends at the park, but ... please stay two metres apart," said Ross.

With files from the Canadian Press and Laura Howells