The Long Point Ratepayers Association has formalized its opposition to a Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit order limiting access to cottage properties.
The association is seeking a hearing with the provincial Health Services Appeal and Review Board.
Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s Medical Officer of Health, approved an order April 23 forbidding residents from outside the two counties from accessing vacation properties in Haldimand and Norfolk until further notice.
Those served with the order have 15 days to request a hearing under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
“The association is fully supportive of the medical guidance provided by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Williams, and the direction of the government of Ontario related to COVID-19 and physical distancing practices,” the association executive said in a statement on May 7.
“In a May 3 memo to medical officers of health, Williams states ‘My current recommendation is to not prohibit access to secondary residences through legal order, but to continue to provide communications that discourage their use. I similarly recommend that medical officers of health do not issue Section 22 class orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act prohibiting access to these residences.”
Nesathurai has said unlimited access risks spreading COVID-19 from high infection zones such as Toronto to low-infection areas with limited health-care infrastructure. Despite Williams questioning of the order, Nesathurai maintains it is consistent with provincial prohibitions on non-essential services and activities related to recreation.
The Long Point Ratepayers Association will ask the review board to quash Nesathurai’s order and bring Haldimand and Norfolk in line with the rest of Ontario. No other health unit has imposed a formal ban on cottage access. The prohibition in Haldimand and Norfolk allows for daily fines of $5,000 for those in violation.
“We are calling for the cancellation of Dr. Nesathurai’s order so that our members are treated the same as all other Ontarians with a cottage,” association president Karen Deans said.
“Dr. Nesathurai appears to be the only medical officer of health in Ontario that has opted to use this extreme measure barring property owners from occupying a secondary residence, vacation home, beach house or condominium.”
Though Nesurathai approved the order April 23, it arrived in the hands of affected property owners with little warning on Friday, May 1. Deans said her membership is confused given the Ford government’s stated intention to gradually lift restrictions imposed at the outset of the pandemic emergency six weeks ago.
“The order came as a shock, given the easing of restrictions across the province, and even appears to have shocked Premier Ford when he was made aware of it,” she said.
“We hope that Haldimand-Norfolk’s medical officer takes Dr. Williams’ guidance and removes this order so that we do not need to move further with an appeal.”
As promised, Premier Ford held a conference call with more than 100 mayors representing the province’s cottage owners. At a news conference on May 7, Ford backed away from criticism directed at municipalities that were discouraging cottage owners from accessing their properties.
Ford said many mayors are fearful of seasonal population spikes and what that might mean for local health-care facilities should cluster outbreaks of COVID-19 arise. Ford encouraged cottage owners across Ontario to respect the guidance offered by mayors in the municipalities that serve them.