How the OPP will enforce new COVID-19 regulations among cottagers

Ontario Provincial Police Photo by Shutterstock/Jim Reed

The enactment of Ontario’s stay-at-home orders last week had many people wondering whether they were allowed to visit their cottages. According to the regulations released by the provincial government, cottagers may visit their property if they intend to be there for less than 24 hours or if they intend to reside there for at least 14 days.

To find out how the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) will be enforcing these regulations, Cottage Life reached out to OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson. Here’s what Dickson had to say regarding cottagers and intra-provincial travel under the new regulations:

Are you allowed to travel to your cottage?

If a cottager does decide to head north, Dickson says there are currently no laws prohibiting intra-provincial travel. But he adds that the OPP “is urging everyone to stay at home, or if they do have to go somewhere, to stay within their area.”

The OPP will not be performing spot checks or randomly pulling motorists over, but if an officer stops someone for a traffic violation, they may ask where the motorist is headed. Dickson adds, however, that people aren’t required to provide OPP with information about where they’re going.

What is a reasonable excuse to check on my cottage?

The provincial government said that people should only be travelling to their cottage for emergency maintenance (unless they’re staying for 14 days), but the term emergency maintenance has been left vague.

Dickson asks people to be logical about the reasons for visiting their cottages. Only come if it’s essential, such as shutting the water off or winterizing the property. “We’re going to take people on faith,” he says, “because we’re not going to follow them in and hold their hand while they check on their water system. We’re urging people to abide voluntarily by all the restrictions that are in place.”

Will the OPP respond to neighbour or community complaints about cottagers in the area?

“It varies as to who the responder is from area to area,” Dickson says. “But in many cases it will be bylaw that actually responds as the principal service as opposed to the police.” The OPP are more likely to be called in for criminal activity, such as a break-in, or if bylaw is expecting trouble at a call and requires police officers to help keep the peace.

“We’re not going to randomly seek people out,” Dickson says, “but if we do get a complaint, or bylaw gets a complaint, it will be investigated and the appropriate action will be taken, whether that’s just a check-in to see that everything is on the up and up, or we’re going to have a discussion, ensuring that everyone is aware of the restrictions and the possible penalties for following those restrictions.”

It should be noted that fines for non-compliance with the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA) and the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA), remain the same as before the stay-at-home order: $750 for failing to comply with an order and/or $1,000 for preventing others (including individuals, employees or other workers) from following an order. Maximum fines for individuals are up to $100,000 and $10 million for a corporation. Failure to follow the rules can result in prosecution or jail time. OPP officers do have the authority to distribute these fines.

Will the OPP check on my property for me?

Cottagers following the rules and staying at home may be concerned about the state of their properties. But rather than calling the OPP to check on their cottage, Dickson suggests getting in touch with a neighbour. “As you can imagine, our officers are very busy with calls for service, and we have a lot of priority calls,” he says. “We couldn’t start [checking on cottages] because if we do it for one person then we’d have to do it for so many.”

Dickson says the exception would be if you thought there was some kind of criminal activity going on at your cottage.

If I’m already at my cottage, should I stay there?

Dickson says this is a question better suited for each region’s health officials, but if he had to guess: “I would think that if they’ve been there for their 14 days already then they could travel home.”

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