Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is calling for an 8 p.m. curfew in city-run parks after reports emerged of large crowds gathering over the weekend.
Watson said he's asked staff to put together a proposal after the city received more than 420 calls this weekend from concerned members of the public, on matters from public volleyball games to large Airbnb gatherings to churches violating COVID-19 regulations.
The mayor said his "blood did boil" when he saw photos of empty beer bottles and litter in Vincent Massey Park, which is run by the National Capital Commission (NCC).
"There's no reason for people to be gathering at a park, particularly during a pandemic in the dark hours of the evening," Watson told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.
"Quite frankly, parks are for the enjoyment of all people. They're not licensed. You can't go and just have a couple of cases of Heineken and throw the bottles all over the place."
WATCH | Staff studying earlier park curfew:
Like the rest of the province, Ottawa is currently under a stay-at-home order, which requires people to stay put unless it's for essential reasons — including exercising outdoors.
Outdoor gatherings are supposed to be restricted to members of one's own family, or one other household for people who live alone.
Given that some popular city parks like Vincent Massey are federally owned, Watson said he's asked city police to coordinate with the RCMP.
"They should be taking on a proactive role of driving through some of the parks that they [oversee]," he said.
On Tuesday, the NCC said it's still reviewing its options.
"After deploying conservation offers to the park and assuring its cleanup, the NCC is now focused on coordinating with The City of Ottawa and Ottawa Public Health to determine what, if any additional steps may be required," wrote the NCC's Valérie Dufour in an emailed statement.
No closures — for now
For now, Watson said the city's not considering closing municipal parks, as it did in March 2020.
Coun. Riley Brockington, whose ward includes Vincent Massey Park as well as popular Mooney's Bay, said he supports that approach.
"I'm willing as a compromise, when things are as bad as they are now, to have that discussion about whether mask use should be requested, or whether we should limit the capacity to the larger parks, or a curfew, as the mayor is proposing," he said.
"[But] no matter how serious COVID gets, we do need to keep parks open."
Brockington pointed out that not everyone has a backyard or balcony to enjoy, and urged the city to come up with a cohesive park enforcement strategy — potentially involving bylaw officers doing a daily "walkabout."
Five other city councillors — Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Rawlson King, Shawn Menard and Mathieu Fleury — have co-signed a letter asking that the park curfew idea be put on council's plate Wednesday for discussion.
A curfew, the letter argues, would limit access to green space for apartment and condo dwellers and the city's homeless, while also potentially driving illicit gatherings into private homes.
"We are concerned the proposal to impose an 8 p.m. curfew will not impact COVID-19 infection numbers, but will cause undue harm to many residents," it says.
Craig MacMillan, who lives near Mooney's Bay and walks in the area for exercise, said he's shocked by the number of people who continue to gather there despite the stay-at-home order.
"There was just hundreds of people in the park. And it's not just the volume, it's the fact that they were congregating in groups," he said.
MacMillan said the city is quick to enforce all sorts of other bylaws, such as parking rules, but doesn't seem to be so strict when it comes to gatherings in public places.
'A wake-up call'
Watson said the weekend also highlighted the need for more garbage and recycling containers.
The mayor said he had "a lot of empathy" for people dealing with the mental stress of the stay-at-home order, but urged residents to continue making sacrifices.
"We see the numbers. More and more younger people are entering the hospital," Watson said. "So I think that's a wake-up call for us all to act more responsibly on a go-forward basis."
City-run parks are typically open from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.