Ottawa-Gatineau closing community sports venues, but won't close parks

Ottawa-Gatineau closing community sports venues, but won't close parks

All Ottawa- and Gatineau-owned sports fields, courts and parks are closed for the foreseeable future, but park spaces will remain open to the public.

That means fields used for sports such as baseball and soccer, plus basketball and tennis courts and skate parks, are the latest public spaces to close due to physical distancing measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Team sports are banned, along with gatherings such as playdates for kids from different households. Ottawa's community rinks have been closed.

"Permits will not be issued for parks or the use of sport fields," Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos told a special city council meeting on Wednesday, where most councillors phoned in.

"We don't want social gathering and we also don't want people damaging the parks [for] when we're going to use them because they're so wet right now."

Andrew Foote/CBC

That city owns and operates around 650 sports fields, according to its website, and normally rents them out between May and October for recreational sports and other activities.

Kanellakos said he informed sports associations and community groups that normally rent the fields he doesn't expect any to open until at least the end of June. 

Rules include playgrounds

The closures are part of new rules Ottawa issued on Wednesday for the use of outdoor spaces.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency to help the capital react more quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gatineau issued its ban early Thursday, closing these facilities as well as playgrounds and park buildings.

It's asking people not to sit at picnic tables or benches.

Ottawa's guidance includes staying away from playground structures like jungle gyms and swing sets, because those surfaces are not cleaned regularly and therefore can spread coronavirus.

Francis Ferland/CBC

Residents of both cities are still allowed to visit parks and use walkways, as long as they don't do so in large groups and always maintain a two-metre distance from others.

"We have not issued an order to close the parks from people wanting to walk through a park … if they're practising good physical distancing practices," said Kanellakos.

Jean Delisle/CBC

Ottawa maintains roughly 4,300 hectares of parkland at over 1,300 sites, according to its website. Gatineau has 364 parks.

Bylaw breaks up gatherings

The decision to keep parks open to the public is already being tested. 

Anthony Di Monte, Ottawa's general manager for emergency and protective services, told council that bylaw officers broke up four large gatherings of people at three different parks on Tuesday.

Di Monte said if people continue to defy the advice of public health officials, city officials may need to reconsider their decision.

"This behaviour is inappropriate and we intervened last night," he said. 

"We've got to keep pushing our message otherwise we'll have to analyze the cause and effect and the benefits that we're getting from that versus closing [these spaces]."

WATCH: What's different about this emergency?

Vera Etches, Ottawa's chief medical health officer, said she supports these steps.

"What we're looking at is a situation of many months of people being asked to practise social distancing, so we're trying to set a proportionate response that enables people to go out with their child, their household, [but] not gathering with neighbours' children," she said.

Most public amenities in Ottawa have been closed since March 16, when the city closed recreation facilities, pools and public libraries.

Other municipalities, including Vancouver and Toronto, have taken similar steps to close places where people gather.