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‘Who decided to close the ice rinks?’ Vaughan councillors discuss possible return of skating

Council to decide and direct staff if they decide to reopen rinks
Jan. 21, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

Coun. Alan Shefman’s motion to open discussions about safer ways to reopen ice rinks during a Tuesday, Jan. 19 meeting was carried.

City staff will now show "safer" solutions on Jan. 26’s committee of the whole meeting on how to keep ice rinks open and safe at the same time.

Shefman, who has two ice rinks at his ward, fully understands the necessary need to take precautions but asks how come other cities such as Toronto have their ice rinks still open despite their mayor's redundant “stay home” message.

During the meeting, Vaughan Councillor Tony Carella asked, “Who decided to close the ice rinks” after Vaughan Citizen Matthew Gorden made a deputation at the meeting, saying that ice skating was his children's only way to enjoy some leisure time outside home.

Gordon went on further, saying that ice skating is rather “healthy” for his children whose schooling like elsewhere in Ontario is online.

In response, Vaughan’s city manager James Harnum said it was his and the staff's decision due to congested crowds, citing how “staff felt unsafe” when the crowds became “boisterous.”

Harnum also said that he talked with other CAOs (chief administrative officers) in York Region where “there were several for (the decision) in larger municipalities that were contemplating shutting down.”

Two others were taking the “wait and see” approach, and a couple of others in the northern community, “they didn't feel that they had issues” with COVID-19 numbers rising.

To heed the provincial stay-at-home order, Vaughan announced the morning of Friday, Jan. 15 that it would closing all of its skating rinks, toboggan hill and dog parks, effective as of the same day.

This has made Vaughan the second York Region municipality after Georgina.

“We can bring something back to council on the 25th, and have Council decide and direct staff if they feel that this is valid for opening skating rinks,” he added. However, the date was changed to the 26th to fall in line with the city’s upcoming committee of the whole meeting.

In defence, Harnum said, “We are not being stubborn. I just felt this is the right thing to do.”

Harnum explained many challenges including how people were congregating after skating, “hugging” when seeing a friend, not wearing a mask while skating and the trespassing into the rinks that take place.


Coun. Marilyn Iafrate expressed how, following the order, “I got all the calls, I got blamed for this, just like everyone else.”

However, Iafrate also had citizens “calling and complaining about the mass number of people out there even at the non-regulated toboggan hills.”

“We aren’t talking about a few families, but hundreds of people,” she added. “Ultimately what will come down to, I think the city manager, he alluded to the fact that people are very passionate.”

In case people act aggressively, Vaughan’s recreational staff aren’t trained in dealing with this, she explained. “Are we going to be a police state?” she asked when bylaw officers have to break the crowds, saying that in the upcoming meeting, solutions need to incorporate ways so people aren’t ticketed.


Councillor Rosanna DeFrancesca described her “initial reaction” about shutting down the rinks was, “Oh my god! Where are they going to go now?”

But she said, on the flip side, “The point is, they shouldn’t be going anywhere.”

“When I saw the clips of the gatherings because I know some residents reached out to me throughout the process, telling me that we have 50, 150 people gathering somewhere, some were wearing masks and some weren’t wearing masks,” she added, describing a similar scenario the city manager gave.

With 25 people on the ice rinks, there are “100 others waiting for the kids, congregating, discussing and socializing.”

“I feel for these parents,” she said. But for her, “We have to look at the greater good.”