A woman from Aurora, Ontario received an $880 ticket for “standing too long in a park.” She was there with her baby and dog and plans on fighting the ticket, according to the Toronto Sun.
Roxana was on a walk to Edward Coltham Park with her six-month-old baby and her Australian Shepherd, on April 18 at about 4:30 p.m.
While walking down one of the park's narrow paths, she moved off to the side in a gazebo with her baby and dog to give three seniors room to pass by. She stayed there a moment to respond to a text with her dog at her side while the baby was asleep.
Roxana continued walking after the group passed by and was met with a Town of Aurora bylaw officer. The officer was Mario Munguia who was in an animal services vehicle.
He asked the 29-year-old what her reason was for being in the park and if she knew it was closed. She told him she was there to walk her dog and he proceeded to ask for her identification. She didn’t have it on her but gave other personal information.
He then gave her an $880 ticket for being in a closed park and said she was standing around for too long, though the trails and pathways were open to the public. The official offence on the ticket says “failure to comply with orders during public emergency.”
“His line of questioning was very much as if a police officer was questioning me,” Roxana said.
“He told me it was a zero-tolerance policy and his words verbatim was that I was standing for over two minutes. My head exploded at that point. It made me feel like I had killed someone or sold drugs or did something ridiculous.”
Roxana took to Facebook to write about the incident.
“He also mentioned that he was watching me from afar. I was also absolutely alone. So although there were plenty of people ‘loitering,’ as the officer called it, he only had jurisdiction to issue me a ticket because I had my dog with me.”
The Town of Aurora’s website says that all parks are closed, but “trails are open for use and residents may utilize the pathways to walk through the parks. Please practice social distancing when using Aurora’s trails and do not use park benches and picnic tables and avoid all high touch surfaces on your journeys.”
Roxana emailed Alexander Wray, the town's bylaw manager, asking him why the officer was not following social distancing rules or wearing personal protective equipment. Wray told her that bylaw officers are allowed to break physical distancing rules to do their jobs but did not mention the PPE. A spokesman for the city said individual officers are able to decide whether they wear PPE.
In the email, Wray wrote, “The town has made it clear that only trails and pathways are open to be walked on” and officers have to enforce the bylaw “given a lack of compliance in the community.”
Tom Mraka, the Mayor of Aurora said it is not within his jurisdiction to rescind the ticket. He added that staff have been advised not to talk about the case in detail as the ticket has yet to be fought in court.
He admitted that having pathways open and the parks closed is “confusing.”
“My understanding is if you’re not on the walkway, then you’re in violation,” Mraka said. “We have hundreds of kilometres of trails that are still open, but we explain to residents, stick to pathways if possible. 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.”
He added that people will not receive tickets when moving to the side to allow others to pass under provincial orders.
“If you’re going to walk through the park, it’s not to stand in the park,” he said. “How long does it take for someone to walk by and then you just jog back in?”
The Town of Aurora said, “parks and facilities have clear and visible signage indicating closures and an education campaign about the closures and provincial orders was done.”
The bylaw services in Aurora have had 3,133 interactions with people in parks, public spaces and sports fields. It has also had 171 formal complaints of physical distancing orders being broken, which have resulted in 61 charges.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Michael Bryant said that "ticketing first, asking questions later” is a common problem during the pandemic.
“I think it’s a combination of general COVID anxiety (officers) are under and power-tripping, which arise from these new powers,” Bryant said. “There is an apprehension of abuse of process, if not political pressure put on them to ticket people, because mayors, councillors and cabinet ministers writing directly to the chief of police and bylaw officials about enforcement. This is not constitutionally kosher. Politicians cannot be directing police.”
Roxana said she wonders if officers are not being sufficiently trained.
“In a time when there’s a lot of tension, to scare people by randomly handing out tickets is absolutely inappropriate,” she said.
“This is fear-mongering at its finest. I was told I was still allowed to walk in the park but I guess that’s not absolutely true. I got a ticket for social distancing, minding my own business and having a dog. That was my crime.”