Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says the city is considering an 8 p.m. curfew at city parks and closing their parking lots to crack down on “yahoos” holding parties in defiance of pandemic laws.
Watson, in an interview with CBC radio Tuesday morning, said reports of broken beer bottles at Vincent Massey Park after a party on the weekend made his blood boil. Ottawa residents are “really, really angry” at such behaviour, he said in the interview.
Watson said he has asked city staff for guidance on imposing an 8 p.m. curfew. “Staff are working on that.”
Parks are now closed at 11 p.m. There is no reason for parks to be open in the late evening hours, Watson said. Another option on the table is closing park parking lots, he told CBC.
Watson said he would not support closing the parks as was done last spring at the beginning of the pandemic, when residents were only allowed to walk though them but not linger, and play structures and park benches were closed.
“That’s a sledgehammer to a flea.”
Responsible citizens should be allowed to enjoy parks, said Watson. It’s a minority of people who are not following the law, he said.
“It’s these yahoos that go and bring in dozens and dozens of beer bottles and smashing them on the ground and having a party in close contact with one another. It’s completely unacceptable and completely irresponsible in the midst of a pandemic.”
Watson also promised increased enforcement of the province’s emergency order and stay-at-home law. Ontario residents are not allowed to leave home except for essential reasons, which include exercise. There is also a gathering limit of five people outside.
Public health officials advise people to avoid close contact with anyone they don’t live with and to wear a mask in parks if they can’t maintain a two-metre distance.
People have to understand there are consequences for breaking the pandemic laws, said Watson. “No more warnings.”
Some of the largest parks in Ottawa, including Vincent Massey and Major’s Hill, are owned by the federal government and controlled by the NCC.
Watson said the city has asked the police chief to contact the RCMP to ask for more patrols at those parks.
“We need all hands on deck.”
Over the weekend, between April 9 to 11, city bylaw officers responded to 443 requests for service, issuing 16 charges under the provincial emergency orders and the temporary mandatory mask bylaw, Ottawa bylaw and regulatory services director Roger Chapman said in a statement to this newspaper.
Bylaw officers laid 10 charges on the weekend for illegal gatherings at private residences in the city.
Watson said a church was fined for violating provincial pandemic laws and a group of people playing volleyball were ticketed.
“Use the parks for passive action, walking through, letting your kids run around, kick a soccer ball to one another,” Watson said, “but don’t have a big keg party or a beer bash in a park, leave it a mess and then go off and potentially bring your virus back home or someone else’s virus that has gone on to you, and harm a loved one in your own household. It’s really the height of irresponsibility.”