Shortly after the first state of emergency was declared by the Ontario government last March 17, municipal bylaw officers across the province were given power by the province to enforce pandemic emergency orders after “stretched” policing agencies requested assistance.
Despite having the option to issue tickets under the Provincial Offences Act for violations of provincial emergency orders, municipal and regional bylaw enforcement officers focused on education rather than enforcement.
But that tone has changed after the province handed down additional powers to police and bylaw officers alike to enforce a recent provincial stay-at-home order which came into effect on Jan. 14.
Niagara This Week reached out to municipalities, Niagara Region and Niagara Regional Police to find out what enforcement action has been like since the start of the pandemic.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has relied the most on enforcement out of the Niagara municipalities approached for data, having issued 66 tickets between March and December of last year, according to a Jan. 5 report to council.
Niagara Falls has issued 28 tickets since May; Fort Erie has issued 13 since the initial orders; and St. Catharines has issued two tickets between March last year and Jan. 21.
Port Colborne and Lincoln have not issued a single ticket since the beginning of the pandemic.
The City of Welland did not provide information for earlier than Jan. 14. City bylaw manager, Ali Kahn, said in an email that no tickets have been issued since the province’s stay-at-home order took effect.
Across the peninsula, the region has taken the most enforcement action in the shortest amount of time, according to data provided by communications consultant Andrew Korchok. Between Sept. 18, 2020 and Jan. 22, 2021, region staff have issued 134 tickets.
Niagara Regional Police Service has issued 75 tickets between April 5, 2020 and Jan. 22, 2021 — with 14 having been issued since Jan. 13.
The “severity” of enforcement action can vary, depending on what charge is laid under the Provincial Offences Act.
A Part One offence can be a set fine settled out of court, while a Part Three offence requires a person to attend court where a conviction and penalty can be imposed.
According to solicitor general spokesperson, Brent Ross, Part One fines for individuals range between $750 for “fail to comply with an order,” and $1,000 for an offence such as “obstruct any person exercising a power in accordance with an order.”
But Part Three offences carry a fine of up to $100,000 and a year in prison.
Corporations and their officers face harsher limits. Ross said an imposed fine could be as high as $10 million, if convicted.
Those wanting to put on a party or host an event over gathering limits may also face more stringent penalties, Ross said. “On conviction, this offence carries a $10,000 minimum fine.”
Niagara This Week also inquired about the amount of warnings given and complaints received, but data is tracked and reported in vastly differently ways across the region.
Some municipalities group together the amount of inquiries and complaints, while others don't track certain data, like complaints or warnings, making it difficult to discern exactly how many warnings are given versus tickets, for example.
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Jan. 5 report shows 2,611 inquiries and complaints were received between March and December last year, with a total of 1,475 educational outcomes.
Niagara Falls also reported a high number of complaints, at 2,946, but the data also includes “information.” There were 2,142 times where a business or the public were educated.
The City of St. Catharines was unable to provide the amount of warnings given, but said 436 complaints had been received.
Niagara Regional Police could not provide the number of complaints received, but said they've given 67 warnings.
In Fort Erie, “in excess of 200 warnings” have been given, according to enforcement co-ordinator, Paul Chodoba.
Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week