Three friends were out for a walk along Toronto’s boardwalk the other morning. They walked slowly, each carrying a Starbucks coffee they’d picked up together, as they chatted and laughed.
That’s it. That’s the anecdote. But here’s another one:
A few friends sat on a picnic table, socially distanced, catching up and reminiscing on old times.
Again, that’s the whole story. Are you bored yet? Probably.
But Ontario bylaw enforcement and police aren’t. Their ears are perking up. Because these two scenes are illegal across the province under the current stay-at-home order, and scofflaws can face a fine of up to $750.
The other week when the government backtracked on their controversial attempts to close playgrounds and arbitrarily stop pedestrians and motorists, Ontarians may have thought that was the end of the absurd laws and that what remained on the books were reasonable measures to control the spread of COVID-19.
Maybe they thought the only thing left was the closure of golf courses and other organized sports, which various sports and community associations are currently pushing back against.
But that’s far from the full story. The stay-at-home order — which may be extended into June — is much more extreme than most Ontarians realize. People may not know that they’re breaking it multiple times a day.
Those three meeting up for coffee and a stroll? Here’s what the law has to say about that:
“You are not allowed to gather indoors or outdoors with anyone you do not live with, except one other person from outside of the household that lives alone.”
Those friends on the picnic table are actually breaking multiple provisions. It’s not only against the law to meet up, but the order specifically bans the use of “picnic sites and picnic tables.”
While some people probably know the full extent of the stay-at-home order and are deliberately breaking it because they just don’t care, an equal number of people are probably unaware of just how broad and aggressive it is.
The other day I teased two people who were headed to a field to kick a ball around about their criminal intent.
“Yeah, can you imagine?” one of them joked back. That’s when I explained to him: No, really. It’s against the law for two people — even family members — to play ball on a sports field right now. They were shocked (and then they continued on their way to the field).
There’s been a lot of push back and lobbying from people who want to make their case that their activity of choice can be done safely and isn’t contributing to the spread of the virus. But it’s futile because officials know that and don’t care.
Examples of outdoor transmission are so exceedingly rare. Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer, confirmed this when I put the issue to him at a press conference the other week.
That’s not the point, though.
The Ontario government is currently obsessed with mobility data as their all-important metric. They look at anonymized cellphone data to determine how many people are moving about as opposed to staying put. Ontario’s restrictions aren’t about targeting the places where they believe COVID-19 is spreading, it’s about giving people as few reasons as possible to leave home, regardless of what those reasons might be.
FUREY FACTOR: Ontario extends stay-at-home order!
LILLEY: Schools will remain closed as stay-at-home order to be extended
LILLEY: No golf and no school for foreseeable future in Ontario
The past few weeks have been rather chilly with intermittent rain. A lot of people would have probably stayed in regardless. But the forecast for Toronto this coming weekend is calling for mainly sunny weather with temperatures in the high teens.
Stay at home for the first truly pleasant weekend of the year? Good luck enforcing that one.