Municipalities and regional districts across Vancouver Island continue to close down playgrounds, parks and other public facilities in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
On Monday, the District of Saanich, District of Oak Bay and City of Nanaimo were among a number of municipalities and regional districts that announced that their outdoor public recreation facilities, including lacrosse boxes, tennis courts, basketball courts, and golf courses that are being temporarily closed down.
In an e-mailed statement to CHEK News, the District of Saanich said their decision to close its facilities is “in response to public concerns that some recreation facility users are not practicing” social or physical distancing as ordered by the province.
“Some of the steps Saanich will take to enforce the closures include installing signage to advise of the closures, taping off playground apparatus, and locking facilities where possible. We expect the public to follow the orders,” the district said in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, the City of Nanaimo said in addition to the closure of playgrounds and other outdoor facilities, it is also shutting down its gated dog parks. The District of Oak Bay, in its announcement, said all recreational facilities and playgrounds will be closed.
In the northern part of the Island, the Strathcona Regional District announced that the closure of Mitlenatch Park, Hagel Park, Maple Park Community Garden, Cortes Island Skate Park as well as Blenkin Park’s playgrounds, swings, courts and skate park.
Monday’s announcements echo similar announcements made the City of Victoria, District of Lantzville, City of Langford, City of Colwood, City of Duncan, City of Courtenay, Township of Esquimalt and Town of Sidney.
But while local governments are closing off outdoor public facilities, enforcing the closure of public places such as playgrounds or basketball courts isn’t as simple as installing a sign.
Ronald Campbell, the District of Lantzville’s chief administrative officer, told CHEK News that if people were to continue using their playground equipment, the most the district could do is tell them to leave.
“That’s all we can really do at this point,” he said.
Campbell said without Lantzville councillors passing a bylaw that allows the district to start handing out bylaw infractions and issuing fines, their ability to enforce such closures is limited to communication from their public works department.
“Our public works staff, as they drive through the community, if they see people in the playground, they will advise them not to be there,” he said.
David Leitch, Strathcona Regional District’s chief administrative officer, said they aren’t planning on having bylaw officers patrol parks and issue tickets to would-be offenders.
“I don’t think it makes any sense for local governments to be handing out tickets or anything like that and I don’t think it will come to that as well,” he said.
Leitch said local governments don’t have a lot of ability to restrict or limit people’s ability to gather in public areas.
“There isn’t a real hammer at the end of the day,” he said. “If people don’t abide then what we can do is inform the police of that and the RCMP can take care of that because the province is under a state of emergency.”
Educating and making people aware of the closures and why they’re happening, said Leitch, is key.
“If we see social gatherings, [we will] remind people of the provincial mandate and encourage them not to have public gatherings,” he said, adding. “We just need to educate people.”