Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff faces backlash over packed group photo with no masks

Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff faces backlash over packed group photo with no masks

Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff is saying he should have worn a mask in photos he posted to social media that showed him in a group of around 40 people pressed close together at a banquet hall.

The series of photos Oosterhoff posted, and then deleted, from his Facebook page this weekend shows the group squeezing in to take a picture — an action that breaks Ontario's COVID-19 physical distancing measures.

Nobody in the picture was wearing a mask.

The photo led to Ontario Hospital Association president and CEO Anthony Dale calling for Oosterhoff's resignation as the parliamentary assistant to the minister of education, Stephen Lecce.

The PC MPP is now facing online criticism over the photo and his flouting of the rules.

In response to questions about the backlash, a statement from his office referenced Ontario's gathering limits and how the banquet was arranged. There were fewer than 50 people in attendance, Oosterhoff said, and five tables with fewer than 10 people seated at each of them.

"However, I should have worn a mask when we took a quick [picture], given the proximity of everyone, and I apologize for failing to do so," he said.

While Ontario's gathering limits for staffed, indoor social gatherings currently stands at 50 people, individuals must keep six feet apart from anyone outside of their household.

Masks also need to be worn in enclosed, public places across the province, including banquet halls. Masks can only be removed while eating and drinking.

In Monday's media briefing, Premier Doug Ford said he still has "100 per cent confidence" in Oosterhoff, and confirmed he will continue in his parliamentary assistant role.

"He came out and apologized. Hey, guys, everyone makes mistakes," Ford said. "I'm a strong believer — you make a mistake, you go out and apologize and say it's not going to happen again. I accept that."

WATCH | Premier Doug Ford defends Oosterhoff:

NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath referenced the photos in question period on Monday. She said that Ford's direction has been "so inconsistent and so unclear" that Oosterhoff "literally posed for a photo where he violated public health guidelines."

"So why is the premier's own team challenging, and outright ignoring, his directions?" she asked.

"Everybody in Ontario knows" what was shown in the photos isn't "supposed to happen," she said in a post-question period scrum. Horwath also added that the MPP should lose his parliamentary assistant position.

"In the meanwhile, the premier needs to set an example here, and show the people of Ontario that when he's asking people to do things to help stop the spread of COVID-19 that includes his caucus members. And if they don't do the right thing, then they need to have a comeuppance," she said.

CBC News has not received clarification on whether this photo occurred before or after Oosterhoff held an in-person media briefing at Smith Public School in Grimsby.

The media briefing was scheduled for Friday.

As of Monday, the Niagara region's number of active COVID-19 cases is 107. There have been 1,351 cases overall and 68 people have died.