On April 16, 2021, the province of Ontario announced that it is strengthening enforcement of the current Stay-at-Home Order, including travel restrictions, work-from-home requirements, and other new public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Declared Emergency & Stay-at-Home order extended
Both the declared State of Emergency and the current Stay-at-Home Order have been extended by two (2) weeks, and are now currently scheduled to expire on May 20, 2021.
The Stay-at-Home order requires individuals to remain at home, except for specified purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), walking or exercising outdoors, or going to work, if their work cannot be done remotely.
"Enhanced" police authority
Effective Saturday, April 17, 2021 at 12:01 a.m., police officers and other provincial offences officers were provided with "enhanced authority" to support the enforcement of Ontario's Stay-at-Home Order.
The province's Enforcement of COVID-19 Measures regulation requires an individual to provide a police officer or other provincial offences officer with their correct name, date of birth and home address in the following circumstances:
- The officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe the individual has committed an offence pursuant to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act;
- The officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe the individual has committed an offence pursuant to the Health Protection and Promotion Act;
- The officer has reason to suspect that the person may be participating in a prohibited public gathering, in violation of the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, and the officer believes it is in the public interest to determine whether the individual is in compliance with the applicable statutory requirements.
According to the province, this enforcement tool will remain in effect for the duration of the Stay-at-Home Order, and may only be utilized for the purpose of enforcing the Stay-at-Home Order.
Various police forces across the province have since expressed, however, that there will be no immediate change in enforcement practices as a result of the provincial announcement related to new authorities until a further review is conducted.
Workplace safety blitzes
These "urgent actions" were announced hours after the Ministry of Labour commenced a safety blitz of 1300 construction sites on April 16, 2021.
The Ministry of Labour has also indicated that it will be conducting spot audits at workplaces throughout the province (including offices and other congregate work settings), to ensure that only work that cannot be done remotely is being performed on-site.
New travel restrictions
In order to limit the spread of COVID-19 variants, the province of Ontario has also restricted travel into Ontario from the provinces of Manitoba and Quebec, subject to narrow exceptions for designated purposes such as work, health care services, transportation and delivery of goods and services or exercising Aboriginal or treaty rights.
New public health measures
The following new public health measures took effect on Saturday, April 17, 2021 at 12:01 a.m., and will remain in effect for the duration of the Stay-at-Home order:
- All outdoor social gatherings and organized public events are prohibited, except for with members of the same household or one other person from outside that household who lives alone or is a caregiver for any member of the household.
- Most outdoor recreational amenities are required to close. Although this restriction initially included park benches, playgrounds and off-leash dog parks, the regulation was amended to permit these amenities to remain open. However, individuals are not permitted to use picnic areas or sports fields and courts in parks and recreational areas.
- All non-essential workplaces in the construction sector are required to close.
- Capacity limits have been reduced to 25 percent in all retail settings where in-store shopping is permitted, including supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, indoor farmers' markets, other stores that primarily sell food and pharmacies.
Effective Monday, April 19, 2021 at 12:01 a.m., the government restricted the capacity of weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites or ceremonies to 10 people, both indoors and outdoors.
Social gatherings associated with these services such as receptions are prohibited, except for with members of the same household or one other person from outside that household who lives alone. Drive-in services are permitted.
All other public health and workplace safety measures for non-essential retail under the province-wide emergency brake (i.e., curbside pick-up and delivery only), will continue to apply.
To support "hot spot" communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19, the province has committed to dedicating 25 per cent of future vaccine allocations to the 13 public health regions with the highest historic and ongoing high rates of death, hospitalization and COVID-19 transmission.
"Final warning" for employers
The Premier and Minister of Labour have cautioned that this announcement serves as a "final warning" for individuals and businesses across the province. Employers across all sectors should carefully consider whether any given employee's role, or any portion of that role, can be performed remotely.
Where an employee's work cannot be performed remotely, employers should consider providing employees with accurate and updated "Safe Passage" letters to identify the precise nature of their work, and why the work in question cannot be performed remotely.
If you have any questions about these recent announcements, or the province's enhanced enforcement mechanisms, the members of Gowling WLG's Employment, Labour & Equalities Group would be pleased to assist. You can find out more about our Group and how to contact a specific lawyer.