City, NCC responding to reports of large parties in local parks

The National Capital Commission says it is working with the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Public Health on additional steps to enforce public health measures in parks after photos of beer bottles and other debris at Vincent Massey Park were shared on social media.

Some residents posted photos showing empty beer bottles and cases on picnic tables at the park following what appeared to be a large gathering this past weekend.

Vincent Massey Park at 7:30 am today - there were at least ten other tables covered in bottles. Looks like this well planned party got broken up early. Hope they come back to clean up the mess. pic.twitter.com/eh7etAn5vI

— Liz (@arnica246) April 11, 2021

"There were at least ten other tables covered in bottles. Looks like this well planned party got broken up early. Hope they come back to clean up the mess," a user identified as Liz said in response to a tweet by River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington about a disturbance at Mooney's Bay Park on Saturday.

The NCC said on Twitter Monday that they are looking at further options to prevent large gatherings like this during the stay-at-home order.

"We're aware of a gathering that took place at Vincent Massey Park this weekend," the NCC said. "Our teams responded to the situation & moved quickly to clean the site. We're now focused on coordinating with [the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Public Health] to determine what, if any additional steps may be required.

"We ask the public to follow local public health directives, as well as NCC preventive measures, at all times."

Parks are open under Ontario's stay-at-home order, but events and gatherings outdoors are limited to five people.

"Limit close contact to only members of your household (the people you live with). If you live alone, you can have close contact with only one other household," the province says. "You must stay at least two metres apart from everyone else and wear a mask or face covering during permitted events or social gatherings."

We're aware of a gathering that took place at Vincent Massey Park this weekend. Our teams responded to the situation & moved quickly to clean the site. We're now focused on coordinating with @ottawacity @OttawaHealth to determine what, if any additional steps may be required. 1/2

— National Capital Commission (@NCC_CCN) April 12, 2021

(2/2) We ask the public to follow local public health directives, as well as NCC preventive measures, at all times.

— National Capital Commission (@NCC_CCN) April 12, 2021

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson responded to images of the debris at Vincent Massey Park on Twitter to say he'd be meeting to discuss the issue on Monday.

"This is completely disgraceful and unacceptable behaviour," Watson wrote. "(While) this particular park is federally controlled it needs to stop. I’ve convened a meeting (Monday) to get this nonsense to end. We are in a pandemic!"

Speaking to CTV News Ottawa, Brockington said he wants the city to take a more proactive approach to enforcing physical distancing and other pandemic rules in city parks.

"For larger parks, I do want to see some sort of capacity identified. I want to see a park curfew in the short term, particularly on weekends," he said. "I think any time people are going to congregate, we must have masks, whether it's playgrounds or other parts of the park where people are going to pass or come into contact with each other."

Brockington said the city has not yet transitioned to summer staffing for parks. The warm, summerlike weather of the past week brought many residents outdoors.

"I'm a strong proponent of keeping parks and green spaces open … but people have to get with the program. We're 13 months into this (pandemic). We can't have large groups of people preparing in advance to meet in parks and gathering like this. That's a non-starter," he said. "It's okay to come with your family and enjoy our green spaces but we just can't congregate together yet. We've got to get through this."

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Roger Chapman, the city's director of Bylaw and Regulatory Services (BLRS), said officers responded to more than 400 calls last weekend.

"Between April 9 and April 11, BLRS responded to 443 requests for service and issued 16 charges under the Provincial Orders and the Temporary Mandatory Mask Bylaw. BLRS also issued 10 charges under the Provincial Orders in relation to gatherings in private residences," Chapman wrote, adding that some cases are still under investigation because of "extremely high call volumes" in recent days.

Chapman also said bylaw adjusted its staffing levels to facilitate proactive patrols of parks. 

"We understand this is a difficult time for everyone. BLRS continues to use their discretion where possible. However, those who fail to cooperate and comply will be fined in accordance with the regulations set out in the (temporary mandatory mask bylaw) and Provincial Orders."