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Fines and fences: Some cities still dealing with COVID-19 rule-breakers in parks
NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. -- The warning signs are up, along with the yellow caution tape and padlocked chains. But according to the City of New Westminster, that hasn’t stopped everyone from accessing some park areas and amenities that have been closed as a precaution due to the pandemic.
The city has now introduced a fine of up to $200 that can be issued to people who disobey the rules.
Parks and recreation director Dean Gibson told CTV News Vancouver the fine is only meant as a last resort, and added most people are compliant. He said it’s just a small number of isolated cases where some people have been “very motivated” to access park areas that are closed.
“That has resulted unfortunately in some people cutting chain link fencing, cutting though padlocks that would otherwise have locked gates,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we have a very small number of people who don’t recognize the importance of doing their part.”
One of the areas that’s been targeted is an outdoor fitness circuit in Queen’s Park. Gibson said whoever is visiting the off-limits area seems “bound and determined” to dismantle any barrier city staff have put up to keep it closed. When CTV viewed the area on Thursday, signs were posted, and some of the equipment was wrapped in caution tape, as well as locked chains. Others had pieces of wood on top.
“As you can appreciate, anywhere where there’s equipment that people are physically handling, that’s a high-touch type of a scenario, and one that we’re particularly concerned about,” he said.
The City of Vancouver has also had some issues with caution tape being removed at outdoor exercise stations, as well as playground equipment. In an emailed statement to CTV, the city said while most people have been respectful of closures, they have had to put up fencing around skateboard parks, and some exercise stations and playgrounds where the tape kept being removed repeatedly. The city added no fines have been issued there.
In Surrey, parks manager Neal Aven told CTV in an email they have not had to issue any tickets thus far, and when they have had reports of people in closed amenities, they have “dispersed voluntarily” following a visit from the city’s COVID-19 compliance and enforcement team.
Richmond’s corporate communications director Clay Adams said in an email city staff are also patrolling closed fields, sports courts, and playgrounds on a regular basis. He said they have responded to about 300 reports of people using closed facilities since March 1, and added many of those reports came in the early days of the lockdown, and some were not valid. In cases where rules weren’t being followed, Adams said people moved on without incident once being reminded.
In the District of North Vancouver, park rangers have issued about 600 warnings since the pandemic began, and have removed groups from popular areas such as Quarry Rock and skateboard parks. District communications coordinator Courtney Rannard said in an email to CTV the "highest congestion areas continue to be access points into mountain trails." She said they have made changes to parking and traffic access in some of those areas to address the issue.
Coquitlam’s public information officer Kathleen Vincent said city staff routinely visit "known hotspots" and have not had significant problems with people accessing closed facilities. They recently added some new signage in local parks and sports fields to clarify members of the same household are able to use those amenities for activities, as long as they are distancing from others. The park areas remain off-limits for large gatherings and organized sports.
In New Westminster, staff are also out patrolling the park areas, and the city said they are still taking an educational approach. Gibson said he hopes the fine will act as a “disincentive” for those thinking of ignoring the rules.
“It provides something for us to at least point to to individuals to say there are consequences associated with not following the municipal bylaws,” Gibson said.
Anyone who sees people entering a closed area or using a closed amenity can also report it to the city’s COVID-19 compliance hotline at 604-636-4343, or via email at email@example.com.