York Region may dramatically increase fines against “the few bad apples” who are violating COVID-19 restrictions and public health measures.
In the wake of “a lack of cooperation” from some residents and businesses, York Region medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji said he is considering using his power to issue a section 22 class order that would bump fines from $750 for individuals to $5,000 a day, and up to $25,000 per day for corporations under the Health Promotion and Protection Act.
“I had resisted having such an order because we found ... that our public has been very compliant, for the most part, but like any other place, there may be a few bad apples and, unfortunately, we may have to move there, given that we have variants amongst our midst,” he told regional council Thursday, Feb. 25.
“Not everything we see is connected to the reopening,” he said regarding those who are flouting the rules.
In one example he cited, a household with seven variant cases didn’t inform public health of the midwives who had unknowingly visited the home for a birth when the family was infectious. Now, four midwives have COVID-19.
In another situation, at a daycare with COVID-19, the operator didn’t provide parents with the public health letter regarding measures to follow to prevent further spread, which meant children were not in isolation for the required time periods.
Kurji said Durham Region’s medical officer of health has already issued a similar order to increase fines to the maximum amount.
"I'm so pleased to hear you say that you are considering a section 22 order to increase the fines," said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.
Meanwhile, York Region will continue its enforcement inspections until case numbers are minimal, Kurji said.
Most recently, from Feb. 15 to 21, the region’s COVID-19 enforcement task force completed 1,468 inspections and laid 22 charges.
Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt urged additional fines be charged for retailers who are breaking the rules, referencing a video that went viral on social media depicting a crowded line at a HomeSense in Thornhill last Monday, the day York Region transitioned from lockdown to the red zone.
“I think what we saw was completely unacceptable,” he said.
“I’m just curious as to what can be done from a fines standpoint because, as I understand, a $750 fine really won’t be motivation for a big box store. I think we need to look at adding a couple of zeroes and actually make a statement that if stores are not going to comply to the guidelines ... I think it needs to hurt.”
However, following inspection by enforcement officers that day, Feb. 22, it was determined that the HomeSense location was following most of the required protocols, Kurji said.
“There was overcrowding around the cash area, and that has been corrected,” he said. “HomeSense is taking all the actions that we would expect them to be taking to ensure there is no replication of what may have happened. Now, we can expect lineups at these places, and as long as they are appropriately physically distanced, we are OK.”
“Every picture does not tell the story,” added regional solicitor Dan Kuzmyk.
“This store was actually in high compliance with most of the rules. Because of the specific setup of the checkout area, there was a momentary glut in that area, and people whipped out their phones and started taking pictures and it went viral. My point is it doesn’t necessarily reflect an overall systemic problem with either enforcement or compliance.”
“Significant penalties” are readily available under the provincial act for serious offences, Kuzmyk said, up to $100,000 for individuals and up to $10 million for corporations.
“If these things continue, there will be appropriate action, and it will be heavy where appropriate,” he said.
Public health has met with the operators of the region’s seven major malls, including Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, and determined that requirements for capacity limitations of 25 to 30 per cent, symptoms screening and safety plans are being met, according to Kurji.
Inspectors will be continuing to visit the malls this week, he added.
Most supermarkets visited Feb. 23 were operating at 25 to 30 capacity, except for “a couple” operating at a permitted 50 per cent, Kurji said. Most big box stores are operating at 25 per cent capacity.