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What are the emergency rules in Ontario because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

What are the emergency rules in Ontario because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
July 27, 2020

On March 17, 2020, the Ontario government declared a state of emergency throughout the province in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of emergency ended as of July 24, 2020.

However, some emergency rules have been extended to July 29. That date could change again.

The emergency rules give the government powers they don't normally have. For example, some of the original rules prevented gatherings of 5 people or more, and closed all non-essential services. These rules have gradually been relaxed as Ontario moves through different "stages" of re-opening. Not all parts of Ontario are moving through the stages at the same time. Check here to see which stage your municipality is in.

You can read more about the status of these rules here.

Some municipalities have also passed their own bylaws to deal with the pandemic. For example, the City of Toronto passed a bylaw making non-medical masks and face coverings mandatory on the TTC starting July 2, 2020, and in all indoor public spaces staring July 7, 2020. There are exceptions for people who can't wear a mask for medical reasons, and for children under two years old.

Make sure you understand the rules in Ontario and in your municipality. You can be fined if you don't follow the rules.

Stage 1 re-openings

Starting May 19, 2020, some business and services were allowed to re-open. Examples of the Stage 1 re-openings include:

  • some medical facilities
  • construction sites
  • retail stores that have their own street front entrances
  • some outdoor recreational facilities, like tennis courts

Stage 2 re-openings

Starting June 12, 2020, more businesses and services were allowed to re-open. Examples of the Stage 2 re-openings include:

  • shopping malls, but not food courts
  • swimming pools
  • camp grounds
  • restaurants and bars but only outdoor seating and takeout
  • hair and beauty salons
  • tattoo parlours
  • weddings and funerals but with a limit of 10 people

A full list of the stores that can reopen can be found here. These businesses and services will have to follow public health advice. This includes keeping a 2-metre distance between people, and limiting the number of people inside of stores at any one time.

Stage 3 re-openings

Starting July 17, 2020, most of Ontario will enter Stage 3. All businesses and public spaces will be allowed to resume normal operation. But the following activities will not be allowed: 

  • amusement parks and water parks
  • buffet-style food services
  • dancing at restaurants and bars, other than by performers hired by the restaurant who follow specific requirements
  • overnight stays at camps for children
  • private karaoke rooms
  • sports that have prolonged or deliberate contact
  • saunas, steam rooms, bath houses, and oxygen bars
  • table games at casinos and gaming establishments

All businesses must follow additional safety rules. For example:

  • no more than 50 people at indoor gatherings, and only if everyone can stay 2 metres apart
  • no more than 100 people at outdoor gatherings, and only if everyone can stay 2 metres apart
  • regular cleaning and disinfecting
  • everyone must be seated when eating and drinking in bars
  • fitting rooms can be used, but people may not use fitting rooms next to one another

For a full list of rules and restrictions, see Ontario's Framework for Reopening.


Any provincial offences officer can stop you and ask you to identify yourself if they have "reasonable and probable" grounds to believe you're not following an emergency order.

If you're caught breaking the emergency rules, the police can charge you with one or more provincial offences. The police might give you a ticket or a summons that tells you to go to court.

The minimum punishment for each provincial offence is a fine of $750, or $1,000 if you tried to stop the officer from giving you or someone else a ticket. The maximum punishment for each offence is one year in jail, or a fine of up to $100,000.

Keep in mind that many municipalities have also passed their own by-laws with fines that may be different than the provincial amounts. 

If you continue to break the rules, you can be charged with a separate offence for each day that you didn't follow the rules.

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