On January 16, two large gatherings consisting of hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters were dispersed by police, with multiple arrests made in downtown Toronto. These were some of the largest in a continuous stream of these weekly protests. Then on January 23, protests continued in front of Old City Hall and travelled through the downtown core. Ten people were reported to be arrested and seven of whom were charged.
Those marching are calling for an end to Ontario’s measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, despite the fact that daily cases remain in the thousands.
“Anytime people are getting together and not following public health’s advice the risk of increased spread grows,” says MPP France Gélinas, who serves as the New Democratic Party (NDP) health critic. “There is also the possibility that this encourages more people to flout public health’s advice.”
Despite the current state of provincial emergency and heightened lockdown measures, the protestors gathered at Yonge-Dundas Square, Nathan Phillips Square, and/or Queen’s Park two weekends in a row in close proximity.
“Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, the Province has restricted organized public and social gatherings to five people outdoors, while maintaining a physical distance of six feet apart and wearing a mask,” says Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of Health and spokesperson for Toronto Public Health.
“The virus is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets through close, prolonged personal contact. This is why crowded settings, whether indoors or outdoors where it may be difficult to maintain physical distancing, can result in the spread of COVID-19,” she adds.
Police dispersed the gathering and left three people charged and arrested on January 16, while only 18 protestors were laid with charges of violating the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
“People trust physicians way more than politicians.”
Toronto Police elaborated on the reasoning behind the arrests made:
“While we recognize the right to lawful protest, the existing emergency orders prohibit large gatherings of more than five people. As a result of these orders, we are enhancing our enforcement when it comes to large gatherings. Officers will be dispersing attendees and issuing tickets as appropriate.”
Gélinas believes some of the issues with lockdown violations may stem from a lack of clarity from the Ford government: “The Ford government has not been clear enough with the people of Ontario, leaving many to not recognize the importance of the emergency orders. Let Public Health speak rather than Premier Ford. People trust physicians way more than politicians.”
She also speaks to the struggles many Ontarians are facing.
“It’s understandable people are frustrated,” she says. “What people need is more support during the lockdown from the Province, but unfortunately Doug Ford is refusing to provide those supports by sitting on $12 billion of unspent and unallocated COVID-19 funds that could have saved Ontarians from the worst of this pandemic.”
As for the current COVID-19 situation, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa stresses that staying home and maintaining distance remains as “vital as ever,” despite some potentially positive signs from the recent lockdown.
“For the first time in many months Toronto’s effective reproductive number is below one – sitting at 0.86. This means that overall each new case of COVID-19 is resulting in less than one additional new infection,” she stated in a January 21 briefing. “Practically speaking, it means that we have a slight advantage over the virus, rather than the virus having the advantage over us.”
However, this doesn’t mean Ontario is in the clear just yet.
“This said, we need to see a consistent pattern of improving indicators before we call it a trend with any kind of confidence,” de Villa added. “Of course, lower infection rates and lower case counts are what everyone hopes to see. But it is very early going and a very delicate balance. The tide has not yet turned.”
On January 24, 2021, Ontario reported 2,417 new COVID-19 cases and 50 more deaths. Today, the province reports 1,958 new cases and 43 deaths. To date, more than 280,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Ontario.