Campers question Ontario Parks and Crown land camping ban

Crown Land Camping Photo by Shutterstock/korsart

As of April 16, under Ontario’s current stay-at-home order, recreational camping is prohibited in provincial parks and on Crown land. The closure is part of the latest restrictions announced by Ontario Premier Doug Ford as the province grapples with its growing number of COVID-19 cases.

Ontario Parks, which is operated by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MECP), announced the closure of overnight camping last Friday, saying that this includes campgrounds, backcountry campsites, and roofed accommodations, such as cabins, yurts, and cottages.

“The health and safety of visitors and staff at Ontario parks is our number one priority,” said Gary Wheeler, MECP spokesperson, in an email. “In order to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and support Ontario’s current province-wide emergency shutdown and further stay-at-home order, and to discourage travel between regions, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks has temporarily closed overnight stays in Ontario parks.”

For people who’ve booked a campsite during the closure dates, Wheeler said bookings will be automatically cancelled and people will receive a full refund with no penalty.  He advised waiting 10 business days for the refund to appear on credit card statements.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), which manages Crown land in Ontario, echoed the MECP’s statement. “In keeping with the purpose of the stay-at-home order, Ontario has prohibited recreational camping on Crown land through an emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The goal of the current public health measures is to limit mobility and ensure Ontarians can stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Jolanta Kowalski, MNRF spokesperson, in an email.

Both provincial parks and Crown land will be open for day-use activities. This includes fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing, swimming, and other activities that don’t require an overnight stay.

The decision to prohibit recreational camping has drawn criticism from the public. “It blew my mind how little sense the regulations made,” said Jesse Lacroix, an outdoor guide and year-round camper who lives in Elliot Lake, a two-hour drive west of Sudbury. “Banning camping doesn’t effectively target COVID transmission. Really, one of the safest places you can be is out on Crown land. Much of it is undeveloped, and the wilderness right now is pretty well the best place to be for our mental health.”

Lacroix, who had a planned camping trip interrupted by the closure, pointed out that Ontario has 39 million hectares of Crown land, representing 87 per cent of the province. “I don’t think people have a good understanding of the scale of our Crown land,” he said. “Policing the forest instead of our government-paid highways—the comparison just doesn’t compute.”

Lacroix went on to suggest that the province should enforce COVID-19 restrictions based on a region’s number of cases. “There’s a vast difference between northern and southern Ontario,” he said. “The numbers are much, much less up here, and we have much less population density.”

In response to the restriction, Lacroix started an online petition to remove the Crown land camping prohibition. As of the time of publishing, the petition had received well over 15,000 signatures.

“There’s nothing good about this regulation,” Lacroix said.

With files from Marina Wang

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