Big gatherings, but no distancing spark several calls to police
Police are often called to break up rowdy gatherings, and there is little patience for partiers this year amid a global health pandemic.
On Friday night, residents in Saanich’s Panama Flats neighbourhood saw a large gathering of young people hanging out in the street.
Sarah Wakefield, who lives on Carey Road where the crowd congregated, estimated there were at least 100 people.
At first, she could hear the group in the distance, and then they migrated to her street.
“It was a constant stream of kids for an hour,” she said.
Wakefield said she saw one person wearing a mask, but for the most part, people were ignoring public health measures such as physical distancing.
She said she’d never seen or heard of a gathering so large in 20 years living in the area. That it happened during a pandemic worried Wakefield.
“It’s COVID times, so we need to behave in that way,” she said.
Saanich police said the frequency of complaints about large gatherings seems comparable to other years and it’s concerning that some people do not appear to be following public health guidelines designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Police said they were initially called about a group of 20 to 30 people near Northridge Elementary School shortly before 11 p.m. Less than 10 minutes later, they received more calls saying the group had grown to more than 100 people, and some were becoming verbally agressive and trying to damage private property.
Officers spoke to some of the people gathered on Carey Road and learned someone had weapons, including a baton and maybe a knife.
Officers were trying to locate the person with weapons, who was believed to be at the school, when they were approached by residents with more information to share.
Police said the group eventually dispersed and officers stayed in the area to speak to residents. They are still investigating and are asking residents with information to provide statements.
Victoria police said they’ve received numerous complaints about large groups who are not practising physical distancing.
VicPD spokesman Bowen Osoko said the events have ranged from parties in apartments to a beach rave on Dallas Road a few weeks ago, “complete with DJs, a mirror ball and people openly drinking while they danced together.”
In Oak Bay, problem parties seem to have dissipated since the early days of the pandemic, said Police Chief Ray Bernoties.
“I’m pleased that we don’t seem to be getting those right now. Months ago, there were some concerns expressed about the number of people on the beach but we’re not hearing those concerns much anymore.”
Bernoties said he hopes the change is because people are complying with the guidelines. He noted the District of Oak Bay created a program in May of small outreach teams that provide information on physical distancing guidelines to people on Willows Beach and at Cattle Point.
On Monday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said while outdoor gatherings are more visible, indoor parties pose a greater risk.
Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Reka Gustafson said the number of cases linked to transmission in purely outdoor settings has been “very, very limited.”
“The vast amount of transmission is occurring in close, prolonged contact, especially in indoor settings, so that means among people who are spending a lot of time together and in close proximity,” she said.
Dix and Gustafson emphasized the need to educate and influence people to make safe decisions, rather than punish or shame anyone not following guidelines.
Dix said he spent much of the weekend encouraging young people to engage with their peers about COVID-19.
“I’ve been so inspired by their willingness to do so, by their understanding and their ability to translate some of the things we’re trying to say in a way that works for them, and we need that,” he said, adding the pandemic and “this new normal” is expected to last into 2022. “The way we deal with that as a society inevitably has to be by choice, and by engagement and by talking to each other.”
On occasion, surveillance and enforcement is needed, Dix said, and government ministries met Monday to map out a comprehensive approach to increased enforcement measures and stricter penalties that will come into effect this week.
Mike Farnworth, minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, is expected to make an announcement in the coming days.