Ontario to ‘scope down’ new police COVID-19 powers, source says, as playgrounds allowed to reopen

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in Ontario to stop any motorist or pedestrian and ask where they live and why they’re not home prompted the provincial government on Saturday to reconsider the measures.

As the number of infected people in hospital reached record levels, a government source speaking on background told The Canadian Press that a “clarification” of the police powers was pending final approval.

Read more: Many Ontario police forces won’t use new COVID-19 powers to conduct random stops

“We have heard a lot of feedback on this in the last 24 hours in terms of the scope and applicability,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

“We will be issuing a clarification to police chiefs and the public about the scope and scale of the order.”

The “scoping down” clarification would make clear the aim of enforcement would be larger social gatherings in progress and people out and about would not be targeted, the source said.

Civil libertarians, and pundits have attacked new anti-pandemic restrictions announced Friday by Premier Doug Ford as misguided.

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Ontario imposes sweeping new public health measures as COVID cases spiral out of control

The added police powers aimed at enforcing stay-at-home orders, they said, were overkill.

Playgrounds allowed to reopen

In a tweet issued Saturday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said his government would be reversing a measure initially announced Friday that also drew a lot of criticism.

Ford said regulations would be amended to allow playgrounds to reopen.

“Ontario’s enhanced restrictions were always intended to stop large gatherings where spread can happen,” he said.

“Our regulations will be amended to allow playgrounds, but gatherings outside will still be enforced. Play outside safely. Parents keep your distance & wear masks if you can’t.”

Health experts have said outdoor recreational activities are among the safest ways people can enjoy themselves amid the pandemic as the risk of transmission is much lower than in indoor settings.

The pandemic, meanwhile, continued unabated on Saturday. The number of patients in hospital due to the novel coronavirus rose above 2,000 for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, with 726 in intensive care and 501 needing a ventilator, authorities reported

Health officials also recorded 34 more deaths related to the virus – the highest single-day count in almost two months , when 47 people were reported as dying from coronavirus disease.

The province logged 4,362 new cases on Saturday, down from Friday’s record-setting number of 4,812. Globally, the pandemic has now killed more than three million people.

— With files from Ryan Rocca

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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