Healthy Transportation Coalition requests immediate review of COVID-19 restrictions of use of park greenspace

Press Release -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Healthy Transportation Coalition requests an immediate review of the COVID-19 restrictions of use of park greenspace, street lanes, and public space using an equity and inclusion lens

OTTAWA, 30 April 2020—In an open letter to Ottawa City Council, the Board of Health, and the National Capital Commission, the board of directors of the Healthy Transportation Coalition is asking that the City and the NCC stop limiting access to greenspaces within parks. Instead, the Coalition is demanding that more public spaces be opened, so that all residents can safely enjoy time outside, at safe physical distance from others, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Penalizing people who are using parks in ways that are no risk to others undermines civil liberties while harming the physical and mental health of our community,” said Trevor Haché, board member & co-founder, Healthy Transportation Coalition.

The Coalition is also recommending that the City use its now-empty streets to create more safe space for walking, cycling and rolling, and that it ask other levels of government for support as part of a coordinated pandemic response. In addition, the Coalition is asking that the NCC open more parkways to active transportation.

Mark Ertel, defense lawyer and partner at Bayne Sellar Ertel Carter, is offering his services pro bono to defend people in Ottawa who have received tickets for allegedly violating the Ontario emergency order that lead to the closure of outdoor recreational amenities, and the leveling of hefty fines.

“The legislation is overbroad,” said Ertel. “Unfortunately, when a broad discretion is granted to enforcement people, provisions are applied unequally. Also, it is important in the aftermath of a crisis to examine the response to the crisis and whether or not the interference with personal liberty and freedom was justified in a free and democratic society like Canada.”

People who feel they have been unfairly ticketed, and would like to speak with Mr. Ertel, are encouraged to reach out to him directly at the contact information listed below.

"To be clear, we are not advocating for the opening of all amenities in parks (play structures, etc), we are asking for the City to end its policy over-reach that goes far beyond the recommendations of the provincial emergency order. Namely, closing all parks and not allowing people to use grassy patches, and natural areas, from safe physical distance from others, is not fair, nor necessary," said Haché.

Last week, Toronto stopped issuing tickets for sitting on park benches and allowed access to park and ravine green spaces. This week, Kingston region reopened its trails and conservation areas and visitors have been pleased with the amount of cooperation in keeping the safe distancing. There are many more cities that have deemed the initial restrictions unnecessary. There are numerous success stories demonstrating that people know what is needed to maintain a safe distance.  We encourage a more holistic approach, and that we prioritize our well being first rather than perpetuating fear.  

David Sweanor, Chair of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Health law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa and a longstanding global public health advocate, added:

“Policies should be based on evidence and respect for individual rights. In this case the decision to ban any activities in our parks is an outrageous violation of civil liberties. It is not just evidence-free but runs counter to overwhelming evidence of the benefits of fresh air and exercise and the ability to promote our physical and mental health while adhering to physical distancing guidelines.”

Sweanor also recently penned an op-ed, titled Promoting Health, Not Authoritarianism, which expands on this critical issue.  

The Healthy Transportation Coalition is a group of 35 organizations and more than 200 individuals working together to create a better, more equitable transportation system in Ottawa.

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For more information, please contact:

 

Mark Ertel

Defense lawyer and Partner, Bayne Sellar Ertel Carter

E-mail: m.ertel@bsbcriminallaw.com

Phone: 613-604-2188, or 877-786-4479

 

David Sweanor

Chair of the Advisory Board, Centre for Health Law, Policy & Ethics, University of Ottawa

Global Leadership Council, Boston University School of Public Health

E-mail: dsweanor@uottawa.ca

Phone: 613-799-0665