Photos taken that afternoon, showing over 10,000 Canadians virtually on top of one another, reflect a population seemingly oblivious to the pandemic surrounding them.
Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, condemned the behaviour of the revellers as “selfish and dangerous.”
A city spokesperson promised that by-law officials would be out in full-force the following day. (They were.)
In the meantime, the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario is spiking, with Toronto leading the way.
How could this happen?
I suspect that part of the problem was caused by a group of disgruntled, perhaps entitled, Torontonians using an example set for them by some of our political leaders as justification to overlook municipal and provincial rules around physical distancing.
In early April, we learned that PM Justin Trudeau had visited his family at the Prime Minister’s summer residence at Harrington Lake barely hours after he had called on the rest of us to stay home for the weekend.
We never received a convincing explanation as to why seemed to be one set of rules for most Canadians and another for the prime minister and his family.
That same weekend, after urging Ontarians not to visit their cottages, Premier Doug Ford drove up to his own summer residence to “check on the plumbing.”
Rather than apologizing, Ford attempted to rationalize his trip. He drove alone; he didn’t stop along the way; he didn’t visit anyone; and he was genuinely worried about a flood.
Why someone from the area could not have checked the cottage on his behalf was never made clear.
Strike three came on Mother’s Day.
While Ontario public health officials continued to order provincial residents to stay away from anyone who lived outside of their household, Ford invited his two daughters who do not live with him to visit the family home for some quality time.
The premier’s justification this time was that we should all use our own best judgment in interpreting the advice from Public Health.
When leaders in other countries have behaved similarly, some have been forced to resign.
In Canada, there were no consequences for Trudeau, nor have there been any for Ford, now a repeat offender.
This context does not excuse Torontonians’ shoddy behaviour at Trinity Bellwoods. They put the health of their fellow residents at increased risk and might well have extended the length of our lockdown.
It might, however, explain how such a situation could occur, and suggests that it could happen again.
Both the prime minister and the Ontario premier have managed elements of the Canadian response to COVID-19 admirably.
But when it comes to consistently matching their words with their actions, they have made significant mistakes.
It seems to me that, at least in Toronto, these errors have undermined the critical message that our public health officials have been sending.
If Trudeau and Ford want to restore Torontonians’ commitment to flattening the curve, they should start by following Toronto Mayor John Tory's lead, and offering all Canadians a sincere apology.
Like many Canadians, I have been impressed by the work of Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer, throughout the pandemic. Her calm, thoughtful presence has been reassuring. Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s work as the chief medical officer of health in Alberta has been equally inspiring.
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