Pandemic means long hours, adapting to changing rules for Toronto bylaw team

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TORONTO — For Toronto's bylaw enforcement officers, the pandemic has meant working long hours and quickly adapting to evolving rules aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the head of the city's licensing and standards department says.

Ensuring residents and businesses follow a series of municipal regulations –  such as physical distancing rules in parks and customer log requirements at restaurants – has kept bylaw staff busy over the last several months, said Carleton Grant, but the team remains focused on helping to fight the virus. 

"We keep adapting, keep shifting our resources and our needs," Grant said in an interview this week. 

"What we want to do is ensure that the spread of this virus is not continuing because of activity of some of the businesses, or activity in some of the locations that we're responsible for enforcing."

Before the pandemic, Grant's team of roughly 200 officers was responsible for enforcing municipal bylaws that include regulations for noise, parks, and business licensing. 

After COVID-19 arrived, Grant said his officers have had to focus on ensuring residents are abiding by new bylaws created to combat the virus. 

The municipal rules include the city's physical distancing bylaw, which requires people who aren't from the same household to stay two metres apart in a park, beach or public square. Bylaw officers can issue tickets with fines of up to $5,000 for non-compliance. 

For businesses, the regulations enforced by the city include distance requirements between restaurant tables, maintenance of customer logs at food establishments, and screening protocols for staff. 

Since March, the city has issued 80 charges and 383 notices to food and drink establishments that have failed to comply with Toronto's COVID-19 regulations.

This week, Toronto announced an extension of several restrictions for the city, including a ban on indoor restaurant dining and indoor fitness classes that's been in place since Oct. 10.

Grant said his team tries to stay patient when enforcing the rules, and acts when needed. 

"If someone keeps breaking the same rule over and over again, there’s going to be active enforcement," he said. "If the rules keep changing, and there needs to be a bit of education, that’s important as well."

Grant added that it has been a challenge to bring on new staff during the pandemic, due to extensive training requirements that are hampered by COVID-19 and financial challenges. 

"It’s a lengthy process," he said of hiring new officers. "We’re just trying to keep our 200 officers at that level."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press