EOHU fails enforcement test

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It became clear this week the Eastern Ontario Health Unit prefers the carrot over the stick.

A year into the pandemic, is this the appropriate approach?

For a year now, we’ve heard medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis implore that we not be complacent, that we continue following public-health measures aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Once the pandemic was declared, he was given a series of very powerful tools to add to the health unit’s inspection and enforcement toolkit.

He has many Section 22 orders, issued under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Beyond that, provincial legislation, regulations, and orders have also added more heft to the inspector’s toolkit, in order to ensure businesses and individuals are following COVID-19 measures meant to mitigate the chances of transmission, and remove those who are ill from being a risk to others.

Just like regular public-health inspections of our restaurants, child-care centres, pools, etc., it’s reasonable inspectors would use progressive measures to enforce the law. Education, followed by warnings, followed by issuing fines and charges as permitted.

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In restaurants, for example, the EOHU uses the popular green/yellow/red notices pioneered by other health units a decade or so before they were implemented here. You can search for yourself before choosing a restaurant, to see what its inspection record looks like.

This is all in the interest of protecting and promoting public health, which I thought was our health unit’s mandate.

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We requested information on how the EOHU has been enforcing various pandemic-related measures, either from Sec. 22 orders, or provincial legislation, through the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The resulting response this week confirmed our suspicions— the health unit has only been educating those businesses that aren’t following the rules. In 786 inspections, over 40 of which were due to complaints, outbreaks, positive cases, or other pandemic concerns, not a single fine or other enforcement action taken.

A year into this, that isn’t acceptable.

Provincial-offence inspectors in a three-day blitz also marketed as focusing on education, found enough reason to issue six fines and 11 orders. EOHU inspectors run under a mandate of not issuing any.

It’s unacceptable Roumeliotis’ response when asked was to say businesses are suffering enough, and not issuing warnings or fines is done out of respect for the community. A year into this, any business that can’t follow well-known rules doesn’t deserve education, it needs a strong signal to shape up. Where does the viability of private businesses lie within the health unit’s mandate?

Respect for the community as a whole? I see none in this approach.

hrodrigues@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HugoAPRodrigues

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