Summer swept through the city this weekend and, ongoing pandemic or not, thousands of people were determined to spend it the way they might have in years past – enjoying the sunshine and warm weather in Trinity Bellwoods Park.
For the uninitiated, those of you without your own personal slackline for instance, the number of people at Bellwoods Park on Saturday, captured in various photos and videos shared online, may have seemed overwhelming. As someone who has spent their fair share of afternoons in said park, this is simply not the case. Throughout late spring and summer the long sprawl of grass is often occupied to a capacity unseen in other parks or green spaces throughout the city.
That said, this large collection of people should never have been allowed to develop during COVID-19.
— Jackson Gair (@JacksonGair) May 24, 2020
I’m not excusing the people who gathered there. Those who so nonchalantly took for granted all the work and risk first responders are carrying every day to ensure we get through this period with the least amount of spread and death possible. (Indeed, I would hasten to bet that a great number of the people at the park on Saturday probably participate in the nightly cheering sessions for our frontline healthcare workers, completely missing the irony of their ‘support’.)
The mindset of many residents in Toronto, in recent days and weeks, at least through my limited experience and circles, has appeared to be entering a new stage of the pandemic. I call it the “shrug” stage. It has been nearly 10 weeks of enduring a world-changing event, unprecedented job loss, unfamiliar levels of isolation – from friends, family, and loved ones of all kinds – and people are starting to break. There’s a sense from many that maintaining the previous level of rigour employed during the first two months of the outbreak seems unsustainable. Couple this with the city’s first splash of true summer weather, and it’s no wonder people flocked in droves to a familiar outdoor setting.
They’re still #covidiots, don’t get me wrong. But at least they’re predictable idiots.
But, while this entitled collection of sun-seekers absolutely should have known better, the City already did know better. As early as April 12, the City of Toronto has been highlighting Trinity Bellwoods Park as a ‘hotspot’ for complaints related to park use and physical distancing, and claimed, as late as Saturday afternoon, that the COVID-19 Enforcement Team had deployed officers to “problematic parks, including Trinity Bellwoods.”
Sadly, that simply didn’t appear to be the case over the weekend.
In fact, Mayor John Tory was caught in the park neither paying strict attention to physical distancing guidelines or bothering to properly wear the mask he had with him. (The mayor has since issued an apology, saying, “I know that I must set a better example going forward.”)
John Tory at Trinity Bellwoods, mask down, not distanced two meters and socializing. Hard to take him seriously. pic.twitter.com/F9PeVP5tfE
— Eva Lewarne – (@ELewarne) May 25, 2020
By Saturday evening, the City had changed its tune on Trinity Bellwoods, as they sent out a release condemning the behaviour and stating that, “Tomorrow morning, bylaw enforcement officers and police will have a visible presence in Trinity Bellwoods Park to ensure there are no repeats of the crowds witnessed today.”
And guess what – those officers did show up… and hardly anyone else did.
— Mark Hebscher (@Hebsyman) May 24, 2020
So why, if the City knew Trinity Bellwoods was an issue, didn’t they take the appropriate steps to address it before it happened. And why, when the City’s Mayor showed up did he not immediately do something, anything about it other than literally join in the giant disappointment.
A total of four (yes, 4!) tickets were given out on Saturday in Trinity Bellwoods Park. How is the rest of Toronto supposed to take the repercussions of failing to listen to our public health officials seriously if the fallout from not doing so is so utterly casual?
The online shaming over the crowd pictures that circulated stretched far and wide, even leading Premier Doug Ford to suggest in his Monday press conference that anyone who was at Bellwoods on Saturday should be tested for COVID-19.
Again, the actions shown by the crowds that gathered at the park were selfish, stupid, and potentially incredibly dangerous. But the City never should have given these people the chance to get together like this.
If Toronto expects its residents to act with a certain level of common sense and decency, they have to start setting a better example than the one they did over the weekend.