Ford Govt. brings in social gathering changes - and fines to go with them

doug ford

The Ford Govt. announced its anticipated social gathering changes Thursday, with hefty fines for those that organize get-togethers that violate provincial rules. 

Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that social gatherings in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa would be reduced to 10 for indoor and 25 for outdoor, down from 50 and 100 respectively. 

These includes events like private parties, barbecues and gatherings at public parks, but not in staffed businesses or facilities like restaurants, theatres, gyms, convention centres or religious gatherings. 

The government also introduced the stiffest fines in the country for those that host illegal gatherings, with a minimum of $10,000 for organizers and up to $100,000, as well as possible jail time, with harsher penalties for corporations and their directors/officers should they be in violation. 

"These people that just recklessly ignore the regulations and guidelines that chief medical officers put out there," Ford said. "They must be a few fries short of a happy meal these people, because I just don't get it, they go out there, they know the rules and they just blatantly ignore it." 

Those who attend the gatherings are still subject to existing fines of $750 and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said they'll continue to track cases in other areas to see if the new rules should expand beyond the three regions. 

Toronto, Peel and Ottawa have been leading the increased cases in Ontario, which reported 293 new cases on Thursday. 

There's also some nuance for the gatherings, as for example a wedding and reception can still be held under the old rules in a convention centre because of the rules associated with the facility, but not in a private home or outdoors where people are getting together informally. 

Toronto Public Health is currently tracking over 20 cases linked to four weddings. 

Public health officials have been warning about gatherings including private parties and family events where people aren't wearing masks and not abiding by physical distancing rules, driving up the community transmission. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath took issue with the changes not applying to the school system. 

"Why is it okay to have 70 kids on a bus and 30 kids in a classroom, when he's saying that it's unsafe to have 10 people in an indoor space?" 

Later in the day, Ford said called it an apples and oranges comparison. 

"We're comparing a school that has cohorts and the teachers, they're supervising and have social distancing and wearing masks and hand sanitizer and having nurses on hand and comparing it to a wild party in the backyard that people are drinking, hugging, kissing, spitting, every other thing that you can possibly think of, not paying attention to the rules," he said. 

That notion was echoed by Health Minister Christine Elliott and Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. 

"These are the events that we really do not want to have happening because they contribute to the cases in our community and spread around our community and that invariably can roll back in to affect our schools," Williams said. 

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner disagreed. 

"There is some cognitive dissonance if the Premier thinks a 30-student classroom is safe, but an 11-person dinner party is not," he said. "The government used to praise health experts like Sick Kids, but now it is flat out ignoring their advice on class sizes."

There are currently 51 schools with at least one reported case in Ontario since the start of school, with Fellowes High School in Pembroke becoming the first to temporarily close after three staff members tested positive. 

Meanwhile, Western University has suspended most non-academic activity on campus after a spike among its students, with 28 testing positive, including one in residence.