Toronto police are ramping up their crackdown on people who aren't taking physical distancing seriously.
Police Chief Mark Saunders said in a Saturday afternoon news conference that officers would immediately be moving away from education and awareness and instead be adopting more strident enforcement of emergency laws meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The police service has repeatedly been advising people to stay two metres away from each other if they do not live together, but has seen many violating the request.
"We have seen numerous occasions where there are multiple families that are together and they don't get it or we will see people playing soccer games or things along those lines and we have to do everything we can to make the message loud and clear," said Saunders.
"We know it is going to get warmer and we know that if we don't start now with that footprint of doing what we need to do to...we are going to have a problem."
His decision to be more strict came after Toronto Mayor John Tory sent Saunders and Carleton Grant, the municipal licensing and standards executive director, a letter pushing for tougher enforcement.
Tory's letter said he believes more tickets should be handed out because authorities are still catching plenty of people not abiding by rules.
"We have reports of everything from bonfires on the beach to hanging out in groups in parking lots to playing pickup sports in closed areas, all of which involve groups of people who don't live with each other and thus could spread the virus," said Tory.
"It seems to me however, that when, after a week, we are still having informational chats with hundreds of people who don't get it or won't comply, the time has come for stricter enforcement and more tickets."
While the mayor could not direct law enforcement on how to enforce the law, he said stricter enforcement would protect the city’s health and help it expedite a return to normal.
Saunders said the police and municipal efforts to raise awareness of COVID-19 regulations has involved 160 police officers from the mounted, marine, neighbourhood community, car, bike and foot patrol units.
They have mostly targeted areas with high visibility and where people are known to congregate, including parks, playgrounds, fitness stations, skateboard facilities and parking lots.
As of April 10, the police service has issued 2,526 cautions, three tickets for provincial offences, four tickets under city by-laws, 88 parking tags and four towing orders.
COVID-19 has killed more than 75 people in Toronto, which has reported at least 1,891 cases of COVID-19.
This story by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2020.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press