Mississauga considering cancelling events scheduled over the next three months

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At an April 1 meeting—which took place entirely online—Mississauga city council discussed a number of coronavirus-related issues, including social distancing enforcement, festival and event cancellations, issues facing tenants and how much discretionary funding individual councillors can donate to local groups and charities affected by COVID-19. 

The city also opted to postpone discussions on whether or not the municipality will allow retail cannabis outlets to operate in Mississauga. According to the council agenda, the city was supposed to revisit its current ban on brick and mortar cannabis retailers today. 

At the meeting, Mayor Bonnie Crombie—who now has the power to enact legislation without council approval following the city's state of emergency declaration—asked if the city should implement and levy its own fines against those caught ignoring social/physical distancing orders. 

While Toronto and Brampton recently introduced their own penalties, city council and staff acknowledged that the province has already set clear guidelines on what kind of fines and punishments residents can face if they're caught operating a non-essential business or congregating in a group of more than five people. 

The city of Mississauga already has the authority to levy fines and charges against those who are caught violating the province's Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA).

As of now, those being charged with an offence under the EMCPA will be required to identify themselves if asked to by a provincial offences officer. Those officers include police officers, First Nations constables, special constables and municipal by-law enforcement officers.

Fines range from $750 to $1,000. Additionally, failure to comply with an emergency order could carry punishments of up to one-year imprisonment or a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director of a corporation, or $10,000,000 for a corporation.

City staff told council that the municipality is capable of enforcing the province's social distancing rules and does not need to levy new or different punishments or fines at this time. 

Janice Baker, city manager and CAO of Mississauga, told council that even Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services is helping with enforcement by using the speaker systems in its vehicles to advise groups of people to disperse. 

City staff told council that as of yesterday (March 31), residents are being urged to call 311 to issue complaints regarding violations of provincial emergency orders. At present, the city has 18 officers dedicated to enforcing the orders and has more that can be deployed if necessary. 

City staff said Peel Regional Police are also assisting with enforcement. 

As of now, officers investigate complaints as they are made and do not actively patrol the city in search of offenders. 

"We do have some ability to scale up if we get more complaints. We have so many parks, we can't station someone everywhere, but we've scaled up and can enforce in a mobile fashion,"  said Gary Kent, the city's CFO and commissioner of corporate services.

City staff said they received 15 complaints on March 31 and were able to investigate all of them. 

City staff also said that while they are not formally closing parks and green spaces, they are closing all parking lots attached to parks to discourage people from traveling to destination spaces and congregating in them. 

After several councillors expressed fears that bylaw officers could feel pressured to respond too harshly to people who are simply unaware of the five-person rule (which is a change from the 50-person rule first introduced by the province), Baker said that officers are working to educate people on the new rules and issuing warnings. 

"Our officers are highly trained to de-escalate issues and avoid danger, so it's in their DNA to respond properly," Kent told council, adding that enforcement officers are also following instructions from public health officials in order to protect against the virus. 

Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish warned against instituting overly draconian enforcement measures, saying that some people—such as children and teens—might be lingering in parks to avoid abusive parents.

"Access to parks is important for children who are being locked in a house with abusive parents. We have to be sensitive, we have to understand we have a very cooperative populace," Parrish said.

Parrish also warned council that some residents might abuse the reporting system and call 311 to tattle on (or lie about) a neighbour they dislike. 

"Some neighbours will scream about bylaw offences because they hate their neighbour," she said, adding that she appreciates the city's approach so far.

"I like the mayor's tone and I hope it continues," she said.

After fines and enforcement were discussed, Crombie and council said that they did not see the need to introduce city-specific punishments at this time, adding that the municipality is currently well-equipped to levy fines and charges outlined by the province. 

Councillors also discussed whether or not it's prudent to follow Toronto's lead and formally cancel all events—and all permits for third-party events—up until at least June 30. 

Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito said she's already moved to cancel the annual senior's fair in her ward and said that it's probably best to make necessary cancellations sooner rather than later. 

"Yes, I think it’s something we do need to make a decision about. It's realistic for us to move ahead and cancel events mainly so that the people working on organizing them will hopefully have a new date to work towards. It's a tough thing to do," Saito said. 

Baker said that city staff will bring a report back to council on how to proceed (or not) with pre-planned events shortly. 

Festivals most likely to be cancelled or postponed include such June events as Carassauga, the Mississauga Waterfront Festival and Streetsville's Bread and Honey Festival. 

As for whether or not major events such as Canada Day celebrations (including the one at Celebration Square) or the newly-formed Taste of Cooksville festival (which is scheduled for September) will take place, councillors acknowledged that it's impossible to say at this time.

"We don't know that we'll be through this in 90 days," Crombie told council. 

Other councillors said that even the fate of autumn events is up in the air. 

"I'm in a bit of limbo when it comes to Taste of Cooksville," said Ward 7 Councillor Dipika Damerlia. 

"I talked to staff about what we can do. It's scheduled for Sept. 19, but it’s still up in the air. I had to check in with my team and we decided that we'd re-check in in late May." 

Damerla said that even though the festival could help re-start Cooksville post-COVID-19, it's difficult to seek out sponsorships when so many businesses are suffering. She also acknowledged that some businesses might not even be operating come the fall. 

When discussing the issues facing tenants, Crombie said that there's little the city can do to legally compel landlords to forgive or defer rental payments for tenants who have lost income because of the crisis. 

While landlord and tenant matters fall under the jurisdiction of the province (and the province has already pledged to ban evictions over the course of the pandemic), Crombie said that the city can use "moralsuasion" to encourage landlords to pass the savings from their deferred property tax payments onto their tenants. Crombie was also clear that since rental matters are the purview of the province, the onus should be on MPPs to educate landlords and tenants on their rights and responsibilities.  

Crombie and councillors were also careful to say that while landlords are encouraged to take a compassionate approach, tenants who are still working should not seek to have their rent cancelled or postponed. 

"If you can pay, pay. I heard from one of the property managers [in my ward] and they said that they're going to charge on a case-by-case basis," said Ward 10 Councillor Sue McFadden. 

"If someone can't pay, they'll look at the circumstances. Take responsibility and contact your landlord." 

As far as tenants who rent city-owned properties are concerned, Crombie later told CP24 that council voted to defer rent for its 42 tenants for 90 days. Tenants affected by the change include the YMCA, business improvement area organizations, sports organizations, and cultural organizations. 

When asked if the city is moving to restrict or introduce new policies around Airbnb and other short-term rental accommodations amid the pandemic, staff said there's been no action on that file at this time. 

Later on in the meeting, council passed a motion to allow individual councillors to use their discretionary funds to help out local charities and community organizations (such as food banks, for example) affected by the pandemic. Councillors will be permitted to donate up to $1,500 from now until the end of the year. 

Council also announced that another tele-town hall will be held on April 8.

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