Beach at Oka provincial park evacuated after partygoers flout public health rules

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More than 1,000 people gathered on the beach at Oka Provincial Park Wednesday but the site was evacuated after too many people ignored public health rules.  (Submitted by Nicole Seben - image credit)
More than 1,000 people gathered on the beach at Oka Provincial Park Wednesday but the site was evacuated after too many people ignored public health rules. (Submitted by Nicole Seben - image credit)

There was lots of booze, lots of sun, but not just not enough physical distancing.

A fun time at Oka provincial park came to an abrupt end on Wednesday afternoon, as more than a thousand people were forced to leave because many of them were disregarding public health rules.

SEPAQ, the provincial agency that manages parks, says staff warned people repeatedly about maintaining physical distancing. Once it became clear those warnings were being ignored, he said, the park had to be evacuated.

Provincial police officers were there to assist with the evacuation.

"We can't close our eyes to a situation that compromises the safety of visitors and employees," said Simon Boivin, SEPAQ's spokesperson.

"We don't want to risk being the scene of an outbreak that wastes the efforts of so many people from the last few months."

Nicole Seben, a medical doctor who was at the park on Wednesday, said one section of the beach was "packed" with people who were partying.

"There was a lot of beer pong, drinking and vodka bottles," Seben said. "Last year, during COVID we did go as well. There were some parties but nothing as packed as this."

Nicole Seben says SEPAQ staff could have done a better job of evacuating the beach at Oka provincial park.
Nicole Seben says SEPAQ staff could have done a better job of evacuating the beach at Oka provincial park. (CBC)

Seben acknowledges that many people were disregarding public health rules, but she also says SEPAQ staff handled the situation poorly. She believes the evacuation essentially forced countless drunk teenagers to drive home.

"A lot of teenagers were discussing amongst themselves, 'who's sober enough to drive?' because they thought they had another three hours to sober up," she said.

"You do not let 1,000 drunk teenagers into cars and tell them to leave. Oka is not a place where you can go by foot."

SEPAQ's spokesperson says staff did not force people to drive. Boivin says people were forced to leave the beach, but were welcome to go elsewhere in the park in case they needed time before getting into their cars.

SEPAQ to apply rules 'to the letter'

Boivin says staff at the park also had trouble getting people to follow the rules last Saturday, though it wasn't so bad that people needed to be forced out.

Still, the park management reduced its capacity from 2,500 to 1,500.

Following Wednesday's incident, SEPAQ announced another reduction.

"We will only accept 750 people on our site," the agency wrote on Facebook. "Public health rules will be applied to the letter, with risk of immediate expulsion [if you don't follow them]

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