Ontario Gradually Reopens

NordNordWest via Wikimedia Commons

Ontario has been gradually reopening its businesses and institutions, but the process has not been without its hiccups.

The Official Status

The basic plan has been to reopen in 3 stages. After a stage launches, the province takes some time to assess conditions before moving to the next stage. Currently most of the province is in Stage 2 of reopening. Many regions of Ontario entered stage 2 as early as June 12, including Ottawa, Thunder Bay and Waterloo. Toronto entered stage 2 a week ago, on June 24. Leamington and Kingsville, which are both near the southern tip of the province, have still not entered stage 2.

During stage 2, public gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted and places of worship can operate at 30% capacity. Many services are open including barbershops, hairdressers, tours, paintball, archery and museums. Restaurants and bars can allow patrons to show up in person, if those patrons are on an outdoor patio. Pools are open, but water parks, wave pools and water slides are still closed. Libraries are open, but patrons are not allow to handle books on the shelves. Even weddings and funerals are allowed, but only if up to 10 people are attending them. A more detailed list is available here.

Separately from the reopening of businesses and public services, courtrooms are also reopening. During the pandemic, courtrooms in Ontario have been only allowing the most urgent of cases, and often handling them through telephone or videoconferencing. Now, 149 courtrooms will be have in-person proceedings in 44 locations. The province aims to open most other courtrooms by September, with a few remaining courtrooms to only open by November. There are supposed to be plexiglass barriers to help maintain physical distancing, and anyone entering a courtroom will be required to wear a mask.

The Hiccups

While the reopening seems to be going smoothly, there have been some slip ups and caveats along the way.

Less than a week after entering Stage 2, Toronto has approved a bylaw requiring people to wear masks in public. This bylaw will take effect on July 7. The bylaw technically does not require citizens to wear a mask at all times: however masks are required when inside “enclosed public spaces” such as buildings or on the TTC. There’s no requirement to wear masks at home, when eating on the patio of a restaurant, or in currently-open workplaces where social distancing is possible. Children below the age of 2 and people who have difficulty breathing or functioning with a mask are exempt from the bylaw. Toronto’s public mask bylaw will not be tightly enforced: in the words of Toronto mayor John Tory:

To be candid about it we don’t really have the resources to go around and look at every store and look at every person that is in one of those places.

Toronto will instead focus on educating people on mask-wearing and relying on them to do the right thing.

Clearly not everyone is so reliable though. For example, the Goldie nightclub in Toronto is facing charges under the provincial Emergency Act. It is alleged that they held a party with no physical distancing on the evening of June 26. They had no outdoor patio or seating area, and let patrons enter through the rear the club. Somewhere between 125 and 150 people were spotted inside.

Goldie’s trip to the courts may run into its own issues, however. 5000 prosecutors and courthouse staffers are trying to delay the reopening of courtrooms until additional restrictions are put in place. One of their demands is to ban people from entering a courtroom if they are sick or even appear to be sick. Criminal defense lawyers have argued that this shows clear hypocrisy on the part of prosecutors. Despite the prosecutors’ concerns about their own health, when opposing bail in court the prosecutors have claimed that jails are safe from the COVID-19. This is despite the fact that many jails have outdated HVAC systems, no physical distance, and even denied masks to inmates.

The Path Forward

Stage 3 of reopening Ontario is being planned right now. In the words of Health Minister Christine Elliot:

We are having discussions about going into the next phase. Whether we do it across the province, whether we do it regionally, these are serious discussions we are having.

During Stage 3, most people will be able to return to their workplaces. However really large public gatherings, such as for sports events or concerts, will still be restricted for the foreseeable future. More data is still required before a concrete plan can be announced.

Schools may reopen in September, but the provincial government is leaving it to each school board to decide on their own safety measures.


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