Mississauga defers more fees, emphasizes physical distancing enforcement measures in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

 

At an April 15 meeting, Mississauga city council discussed some ongoing issues with the enforcement of physical distancing orders—namely the lack of clarity some residents have regarding the rules—and promised to defer more fees to help residents cope with the financial fallout of the pandemic. 

"As we continue to manage this health pandemic, we ask that residents please do their part by respecting the rules for the safety of our community," said Mayor Bonnie Crombie in a statement. 

"We continue to see people disrespecting park amenity closures, not keeping a safe distance or bending the rules when it comes to gatherings with family and friends. We have also seen a rise in littering of medical gloves and masks outside grocery stores and pharmacies across our city. This is a health concern and a safety risk. Those found violating these rules will face fines."

While city staff said that enforcement officers will continue to "educate, inform and enforce," councillors said there might be some confusion over what constitutes as proper physical distancing.

The province has said that groups of more than five people who do not live together cannot congregate or gather. The province also said that any business declared non-essential (such as a gym, clothing store or salon) must close. People caught violating these rules can face fines. 

"I think we need to be a lot more clear on what people are allowed to do in the parks," said Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito, adding that news reports regarding ticketed offences in other cities might leave some people confused. 

"People don't know if they can get a ticket for being in an open soccer field, for example. Residents don't want to get tickets because they don't understand the rules." 

Ward 4 Councillor John Kovac was particularly concerned about harsh or arbitrary enforcement, telling council that he'd noticed a rise in tattling and concerning offers from the public to show his staff members pictures and videos of residents allegedly breaking the rules. 

"Enforcement is finding a balance between encouraging people to stay indoors and stay safe and flatten the curve…and telling people to be healthy and go outside and exercise," he said, adding that physical distancing rules are particularly stressful for people who live in small condos or apartments

"People are afraid of being seen with their children or spouse and being given a ticket. There [can be] overkill and we need to handle things properly."

In a press conference that took place later that day, Crombie said the city launched its second blitz across parks and public spaces over the Easter long weekend.

"Education is always our preferred option, but when faced with blatant disregard of the rules, we are left with no other choice but to issue tickets," Crombie said. 

Crombie said that, to date, bylaw officers have stopped over 8,500 people to educate them on the rules and turned more than 3,000 cars away from park parking lots (such parking lots have been temporarily closed to prevent congregating). 

She said the city has issued 25 tickets ranging from $365 for a bylaw infraction (trespassing) to $750 or more for violating the  Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA). 

"Last weekend alone, we had 30 officers out blitzing hot spots across the city. Officers stopped and educated almost 2,600 people and turned away 1,600 cars from entering our park parking lots," Crombie said.

Crombie said the city issued eight tickets, fining people for such offences as trespassing, playing golf on a closed course, hopping a tennis court fence to play cricket, disregarding used personal protective equipment in a grocery store parking lot, using closed playgrounds and tennis courts and bringing dogs into closed leash-free zones. 

"It's one thing if these individuals weren't aware of the rules, but they are and often they make a point of telling our bylaw officers that they're simply choosing to ignore them," Crombie said.

"We will have boots on the ground, so please, don't risk it. We have 157 bylaw officers to enforce the emergency orders. Please do your part by staying home and respecting the rules when you are out." 

At the council meeting, councillors also discussed plans to close some lanes to traffic to give pedestrians and cyclists more room to practice social distancing. Details on what roads will be affected by the change will be released in the coming days.  

At the press conference, Crombie announced that renewal fees are being deferred for pet licensing and mobile licensing for taxi drivers until June 1 (or 30 days after the re-opening of public counters). 

Crombie also said that any hiring will be suspended temporarily for all positions, effective Tuesday, April 14. Essential services will be maintained, but no other workers will be hired so the city can better cope with the financial shortfall caused by the pandemic and associated shutdown.

At the council meeting, councillors said that an unusually high amount of waste is being left in parks and public spaces.  

The city is reminding residents that all litter, particularly masks, gloves, and dog waste, must be disposed of properly using the appropriate waste containers available. If no containers are available, residents are asked to bring their waste home and dispose of it there.

The dumping of large household items is currently prohibited.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated from its previous version to include more information on physical distancing rules. 

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