The prospect of a $10-million fine wasn’t enough to scare off the owners of a Tillsonburg golf course that was charged for opening in defiance of provincial lockdown restrictions.
Golfers could be seen on the greens at the Bridges at Tillsonburg Friday afternoon as provincial police looked on. Officers could be seen taking notes while snapping photos of golfers — several carts and golfers in groups of three and four were visible on parts of the course — but did not immediately appear to be handing out tickets.
Police cruisers and officers lingered near the course, and a roadside sign warning of a $750 fine for disobeying lockdown orders had been erected.
Despite the course’s ongoing defiance of Ontario’s lockdown orders, police continued to be tight-lipped, declining to answer questions about officer activity at the course and ongoing enforcement.
“It would be inappropriate for the OPP to engage in speculation or discuss operational details in the midst of an ongoing investigation,” said Derek Rogers, media relations co-ordinator for West Region OPP, Friday morning.
“The OPP expects that businesses and members of the public voluntarily comply with the government-mandated shutdown (through) the stay-at-home order.”
Police announced Thursday night the course had been charged under the Reopening Ontario Act. While the amount will be determined in court, the course faces a maximum fine of $10 million if convicted.
Individuals in breach of Ontario’s lockdown orders could face fines of $750, but police have declined to comment on whether any individuals have been charged.
Owners declined to comment on the charge, but thanked the community for its support in a social media post last weekend.
“It’s been wonderful to witness our community and those who support our community come together and safely play the sport we all love so much,” said a statement on the club’s Facebook page.
The charges come nearly a week after the facility in Tillsonburg’s south end allowed golfers to hit the links, with tee times booked up for the entire April 24-25 weekend. Golf carts could also be seen crisscrossing the property.
Emergency rules imposed by the government of Premier Doug Ford when he announced a new stay-at-home order this month — expected to be in place until at least May 20 — ban organized outdoor recreation, including golf and tennis, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
But one expert said the showdown between police and the golf course is the result of restrictions that will do little to slow COVID-19 and could instead push people into riskier behaviours.
“The third wave is not driven by outdoor activities. The third wave is driven by two things — variants and workplace transmission — and that’s where we should focus,” said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor in health sciences at the University of Ottawa.
He said the best way to weather the pandemic storm is by making low-risk activities even safer and more accessible to people.
“There has to be a harm reduction approach and that means allowing people to do the less risky thing instead of the high risky thing,” said Deonandan, adding the first two waves of the pandemic showed the risk of transmission is lower outdoors.
“If you ban everything outright, you sort of compel people to do activities that maybe are harmful.”
The province, however, defended the restrictions, even after having to backtrack some aspects of them, such as a ban on the use of playgrounds.
“The public-health measures we’ve introduced are designed to reduce mobility and limit the risk of transmission in order to stabilize and protect our health-care system,” said in a statement Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott.
“As we continue to work to vaccinate Ontarians as quickly as supply allows, everyone should continue adhering to public health measures and stay at home as much as possible.”