Ontario residents received an emergency alert on their phone shortly after 10 a.m. on Thursday reminding them that the province’s stay-at-home order has officially come into effect.
The directive to stay at home and leave only when absolutely necessary is clear – but the fine details about rules, enforcement and penalties are still being ironed out.
Public Health Sudbury and Districts will be working in collaboration with the Greater Sudbury Police and City of Greater Sudbury bylaw officers in a joint initiative to enforce COVID-19 legislation.
Under the new rules, indoor gatherings with people from different households and outdoor gatherings of over five people are prohibited.
Non-essential businesses will operate under limited store hours, and all employees who can work from home must do so.
“The new COVID-19 modelling released by the province this week is alarming, and it shows we could be in for a very difficult few months before mass vaccinations are available,” said Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger.
“This virus is on track to overwhelm our health-care system if we don’t get it in check. It’s imperative that we take this seriously. Please follow the orders. Stay home as much as you can. Be smart about the decisions you make. Let’s continue to set a positive example for the rest of Ontario.”
On Thursday, three new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Sudbury. Overall, Ontario reported 3,326 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 62 more deaths linked to the virus. Health Minister Christine Elliott said there are 968 new cases in Toronto, 572 in Peel Region and 357 in York Region.
Both law enforcement and public health agencies will operate under the assumption that most people want to follow the rules, and discretion will be used by all parties to determine if an individual or business is violating the law.
The health unit said that an emphasis will be placed on education, and complaints will be judged on a case-by-case basis.
“For the most part, Public Health will be working with police and bylaw on complaints. When a complaint comes in, we will continue to work with our partners to enforce the legislation as needed,” said Burgess Hawkins, Manager in the Health Protection Division at Public Health.
“The normal system, which we’ve been using quite successfully up to this point, is that we go in, talk to people, and educate them. We typically find that if you explain what needs to be done, most people and businesses are willing to comply.”
Burgess offered a simple explanation as to why some of the rules seem so vague – it’s just impossible for the province to determine what is essential for every individual and business in Ontario.
For example, it’s not easy to determine whether employees need to go into an office or whether they can work from home.
“Maybe an employee can technically work from home, but if you talk to them, you find out that their spouse and their child are both on the computer all day for work or school. Their internet access is not great, and a third person on there crashes their internet,” he said.
“We really have to find out what the situation is. If we got a complaint like that, we would go in and ask questions and look at the relevant legislation on what needs to happen.”
Complaints can be registered with the City of Greater Sudbury by calling 311.
They can be about the unauthorized use of closed city facilities, people not self-isolating after international travel, continued operation of non-essential businesses, indoor organized events or social gatherings, or outdoor gatherings of over five people.
Once a complaint is filed, it will be logged and directed to the appropriate party depending on the time of day, the severity, and the type of issue, according to the City.
“We continue to work with Public Health and Greater Sudbury Police to focus on educating and engaging with residents and businesses to ensure compliance,” said spokesperson Kelly Brooks.
“Just like we've been doing up to this point, we do ask people to contact (us) if they have concerns about individuals or businesses not following the provincial orders. Fines could be laid for those who blatantly or repeatedly break the rules.”
As part of the state of emergency, Brooks added, the province announced that it has enhanced the authority of law enforcement officers.
“We’re working with our partners to evaluate what this means locally and finalize the details of any changes to enforcement efforts. We’ll provide any updates in the coming days,” she said.
A spokesperson for Greater Sudbury issued a similar statement, saying police will “continue to engage with, encourage and educate community members and business owners in order to ensure compliance.”
“Officers will conduct the enforcement required for all municipal, provincial and federal legislation using the legal framework provided by the Provincial and Federal governments,” said Kaitlyn Dunn.
“Those who choose to blatantly disregard the new orders including individuals, businesses or corporations will be fined under Ontario Regulation 11/21.”
Set fines vary from $750 for failure to comply with an order to $1,000 for preventing others from following an order.
Maximum fines are up to $100,000 for individuals and $10 million for a corporation.
Police officers will be able to use their discretion in terms of whether an individual or a business needs to be ticketed. They also have the authority to temporarily close premises or disperse crowds.
However, Dunn said that police were not directed to stop vehicles or question people in the streets to check for compliance with the stay-at-home order.
Work, school, and childcare are all considered essential purposes under the new order, as well as leaving the house to obtain food, healthcare services or medications, or other necessary items.
All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m.
The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.
People are also allowed to access government services, social services, and mental health and addictions support services.
“Doing anything that is necessary to respond to or avoid an imminent risk to the health or safety of an individual, including protecting oneself or others from domestic violence, leaving or assisting someone in unsafe living conditions and seeking emergency assistance” is considered an exception.
Exercise is permitted “using an outdoor recreational amenity that is permitted to be open under the Stage 1 Order.”
“The Province mentioned exercise as one of its examples of essential outings. So, outdoor rinks are open for those looking to stay active and get some fresh air, but users should stay two metres away from those who are not part of their household,” said Brooks.
“Hockey, shinny, ringette and any other sports or games where people are within two metres of each other are not permitted. Everyone just needs to try and do their part.”
Burgess also suggested using discretion when it comes to outdoor activities. If a skating rink, a trail, or a toboggan hill is too crowded to allow for appropriate social distancing, then families are asked to opt out.
It’s important to note that if an individual lives alone, they can gather with one other household, and the order “does not apply to individuals who are homeless.”
The order also states that “taking a child to the child’s parent or guardian or to the parent or guardian’s residence” and “travelling between the homes of parents, guardians, caregivers, if the individual is under their care” is allowed.
A full list of exceptions to the stay-at-home rule is available online at files.ontario.ca/solgen-stay-at-home-order-2021-01-13.pdf.
“We realize that the restrictions that have been put in are hard. Staying at home is hard, but the disease is spreading. If we can slow it down, get it to a point where we’re not looking at overcrowding of the ICUs, that’s a benefit for everybody,” said Burgess.
“Please stay home. If you are out, you must wear a face covering, wash your hands, and keep that physical distance.”
For information about local COVID-19 data, visit www.phsd.ca/covid-19.
For information on the provincial public health measures during the State of Emergency, visit www.ontario.ca/page/enhancing-public-health-and-workplace-safety-measures-provincewide-shutdown.
Residents with questions about provincial rules and regulations or effects on City programs and services are encouraged to call 311 or live webchat with the City at 311.greatersudbury.ca.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star