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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Town sees uptick in COVID enforcement

Niagara-on-the-Lake laid seven COVID-related charges in December, largely due to the province's lockdown that began on Boxing Day.

Prior to December, the town did not lay a COVID-related charge since May.

The information on COVID enforcement was contained in a report to council Monday and shows in total the town has laid 66 charges and had 1,475 instances of “education” since the global pandemic was declared last March.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said the slight uptick in enforcement was a result of increased restrictions and subsequent complaints by residents through the town's COVID hotline.

She said complaints came in particularly around Christmas and New Year's Eve.

The reason the town hadn't been enforcing COVID restrictions previously, she said, is because those restrictions weren't as strong.

“When we went into shutdown on Dec. 26, it became a regulation that people from different households not congregate indoors,” she said.

“Before that, that regulation was only a recommendation. So we couldn't lay charges or we didn't lay charges because it wasn't a regulation.”

She said the town also just doesn't have the resources to address every complaint.

“We do not have the manpower in our bylaw office to go after everyone, all the time. So, if we would have been picking and choosing, or just going to where there's complaints, there would have been an outcry from the public. 'Why not go after this person? Why did you go after that person?' “

For those reasons, and because NOTL had relatively few COVID cases, council opted for educating violators.

She said in the months leading up to December, people were “complying more readily” with restrictions.

“They say 33 per cent of the population has become a little more complacent in terms of following the rules,” she said, adding it gets worse around holidays.

“We saw our first spike two weeks after Labour Day. The next spike was two weeks after Thanksgiving.”

She said she doesn't think earlier and heavier enforcement would have made much of a difference in people becoming complacent.

“I don't think fining people in the summer would have changed this. I think people just after around Thanksgiving got tired and said, 'The hell with it. I'm going to visit my family. It's only for a day. It's Christmas.' I'm not sure if fines at that point would have changed that.”

She said people are “not understanding that they're not invincible.”

She notes that in the first two months of the pandemic, NOTL was one of the few municipalities to actually lay charges. In April, 13 charges were laid and in May 46 tickets were issued.