On Tuesday, October 6 at 2:10 a.m., Nottawasaga OPP responded to a noise complaint and report of a large gathering at a short-term rental property on in Adjala-Tosorontio, Ont. Police dispersed the gathering, which was in excess of current COVID-19 restrictions, and charged two people with Provincial Offence Notices under the Reopening Ontario Act —a flexible act introduced by the provincial government to deal with the evolving COVID-19 situation.
The next night, Wednesday, October 7, at 1:15 a.m., police received a second noise complaint for the same address. When officers arrived at the scene, they found another large gathering at the property. This time, eight people were charged with Provincial Offence Notices under the ROA for breaking current COVID restrictions.
The owner of the short-term rental was not present for either incident but is being cooperative with police and has taken steps to ensure compliance.
On September 19, based on the growing number of COVID-19 cases, the provincial government updated gathering restrictions. Indoor gatherings are now limited to 10 people and outdoor to 25. Previously, the limits were 50 and 100, respectively. These new limitations apply to residential buildings, including houses, apartment buildings, condominium buildings, and post-secondary student residences, as well as parks and other recreational facilities, and cover any social gatherings, such as weddings, funerals, religious services, parties, and even family get-togethers. As of the most recent update, these restrictions do not apply to staffed businesses or facilities, such as movie theatres, restaurants, and banquet halls.
If you break these rules, the police have the right to charge you with a Provincial Offence Notice. “It’s similar to a speeding ticket,” said the Nottawasaga OPP. “There’s an actual fine that’s associated with the individual that it’s issued to. It’s not a criminal offence, it’s a provincial offence.”
These tickets and fines are handled by municipally-run courts. The fines issued to the individuals at the short-term rental were for $750, but the ROA explicitly states that “any individual who organizes a gathering at a residential premises that exceed the capacity requirements can face a minimum fine of $10,000 or a maximum fine of noncompliance of $100,000, and the term of imprisonment for not more than one year.”
The ROA also gives officers the authority to enter properties that are not complying with the restrictions and remove people from the premises. They can even go as far as temporarily closing the premises if there are reasonable grounds to believe the event is in violation of restrictions.
Under these circumstances, if you refuse to identify yourself to police, you could face a criminal charge, said Nottawasaga OPP.
If you witness a gathering that is not in compliance with the ROA, the OPP ask that you report it to your municipal by-law enforcement authorities or local police service.