By John Swartz
Wednesday’s noon hour special council meeting happened in order to vote on a by-law to establish emergency measures and to specifically to put council’s weight behind the ability of by-law officers to carry out the enforcement aspects of the emergency.
The by-law actually is the paperwork bringing into line with measures already being imposed because of the COVID-19 crisis. Mayor Steve Clarke declared the emergency March 20; three days after the province did the same.
In March physical distancing, the closing of schools and some businesses were ordered, and since the number of businesses shut down was expanded, playgrounds closed and several other measures – backed up with minimum $750 fines for first offenders – were added. The City of Orillia’s emergency team followed suit in every regard.
“The philosophy of the enforcement staff at this point in time is to educate first and foremost and only move forward with stricter enforcement if in fact we cannot get compliance,” said Gayle Jackson, The City’s CAO.
Councillor Ted Emond remarked a there are businesses not closing as they should and if the stipulations (here) should be added or does the emergency committee have the ability to make such a change.
Fact is the emergency committee can act as evidenced by the mayor declaring the emergency March 20 and the by-law being enacted April 15. The City’s manager of legislative services also said the authority to deal with businesses not complying already exists.
“That provincial ordering that has been established. It can be enforced by both the City’s municipal by-law enforcement officers as well as the police. The province has given clear authority to enforce that order,” said Crawford.
A large portion of the 50 minute meeting was spent talking about boat launches. The by-law specifically closes launches at Couchiching Beach Park, the Port of Orillia (including docks) and Collins Drive.
Councillor Rob Kloostra asked whether anyone was monitoring the boat launches at the end of West Street (which is not a formal boat launch) and at Forest Avenue.
“The by-law officers are not monitoring those two areas that were just mentioned,” said Crawford.
Conversation drifted away until councillor Tim Lauer brought it up again.
“I understand how boat launching would be a problem in Couchiching Park and maybe to a point out on Collins Drive,” said Lauer, “but thinking through the idea (if) somebody wanted to go out fishing, or maybe with their spouse, just doesn’t seem all that threatening.”
May Clarke agreed it may not seem like a problem circumstance, but there was more to the boat launch closings. He said is not just a restriction for people who would congregate to watch boats being launched, but it was more about people coming from outside the community to launch their boats. He also said keeping the Forest Avenue launch open was for those who live year-round on Grape Island and prefers people who only cottage there not come to Orillia and use it.
“As much as we generally love them to be in our community, this is not one of those times,’ said Clarke. He also said if those launches were being abused and people are congregating and being counterproductive to the recommendation it would be different.
Councillor Ralph Cipolla thought boat launch closings should apply to everybody because if anyone got into trouble on the water it would draw emergency services away from other areas that are needed.
Lauer wanted to know if the prohibitions could be amended if needed. Jackson said if more needs to be added it has to come back to council.
Who Makes The Call?
Councillor Cipolla raised an issue of who has authority to act and some decisions need to be made by council. Furthermore, Cipolla was concerned the by-law gave the mayor exclusive authority, and council had already given fire chief Brent Thomas the chair of the emergency response team; Cipolla was concerned there was too much responsibility placed on one or the other and expressed he would prefer it be both the mayor and the chief in charge.
The emergency response plan (already in place and updated annually) designates the chair as being the fire chief in a co-ordinating function and specifically mentions advising the mayor regarding actions to be taken, but there is nothing in the by-law that gives anyone, even the mayor, authority to act unilaterally.
“This by-law as it is and the spirit of the by-law does not enshrine any of those things,” said Mayor Clarke. “I can tell you there are no unilateral decisions being made.”
The emergency response team includes a large number of community organizations and services and several key municipal department heads with defined responsibilities according to their area of expertise. The emergency by-law also requires several key members of the team to keep records and report to council after the emergency of what occurred during the emergency. Decision making is laid out in the by-law to be on a consultation and consensus basis.
On several occasions the idea of by-law officers running around ticketing people was not the goal, despite the existing authority being confirmed with passing the by-law.
“We have not issued a ticket yet and it would be nice if we got through this whole scenario without having to do so,” said Clarke.