Ontario Premier Doug Ford said bylaw officers “could have used a little bit different judgment” when an Aurora mom was fined $880 for standing too long in a park with her baby.
On Tuesday, VICE broke the story of Roxana D., 29, a new mom who went for a walk with her six-month-old baby and dog at Edward Coltham Park on April 18.
Roxana said after she waited under a gazebo for three seniors to pass by, she started down a path in the park when a bylaw officer drove up to her and stopped her. The bylaw officer, Mario Munguia, told Roxana he’d been watching her from afar and that she’d been “standing for over two minutes.” He then ticketed her for “standing around too long.”
Roxana said the officer did not maintain two metres of distance from Roxana, nor did he wear any protective equipment.
At a press conference Wednesday, a reporter asked Ford about some of the “appalling stories of bylaw enforcement” including Roxana being fined, while lockdown protesters at Queen’s Park over the weekend went unscathed.
“I don't direct the police,” Ford said. “The police will determine if they’re going to be ticketed or not and sometimes you might get overzealous bylaw officers or police.”
Ford said the vast majority of cops and bylaw officers are using good judgment, but “sounds like they could have maybe used a little bit different judgement on those couple calls.”
Parks in Aurora are closed, but people are still free to walk on pathways in parks. The Town of Aurora originally issued VICE a statement saying that it is now in a “strict enforcement” phase for anyone trespassing.
The town said it has issued more than 3,100 warings and 61 tickets so far.
Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas told the Toronto Sun it’s “confusing” to have parks closed but walkways in parks open.
“My understanding is if you’re not on the walkway, then you’re in violation,” he said. “We also don’t encourage people to use pathways in the parks. If they have to go through them, they’re there and you won’t get ticketed if you’re on a pathway, but parks are closed.”
But on Wednesday, Mrakas posted a Facebook video in response to VICE's story, though he wouldn't comment on the specifics.
He said bylaw officers are instructed to "exercise judgement and defer to warnings first, and only issue tickets when there is a blatant disregard for the rules, the well-being of other people is being jeopardized, or when a combative attitude is displayed when people are asked to move along."
Roxana said she walks to manage her anxiety. She said in the days following the incident, her anxiety was exacerbated by her fear she could have contracted the virus from Munguia.
“My head was whirling around the idea that I have no idea who he’s been in contact with,” she said. “There was even a fear around holding my own child because the last thing I want is for her to get this.”
When Roxana complained about the incident to Aurora Bylaw manager Alexander Wray, he told her that bylaw officers can break social distancing to issue tickets.
Roxana said the mayor’s confusion indicates there’s a systemic issue with a lack of communication between municipalities and the public surrounding COVID-19-related rules. Both Wray and Munguia also wrongly informed her that she only has 15 days to dispute the ticket, when in fact Ontario has suspended those timelines due to the pandemic.
She said she is glad Ford acknowledged that discretion wasn’t applied in her case.
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