“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” the mischievous Puck tells Oberon, king of the fairies, in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It’s one of the Bard’s most popular lines and can still be frequently used in modern society. Far too frequently, in fact.
Here’s a prime example in the Great White North.
A house party in Brampton, Ont., was broken up last Saturday by Peel Regional Police. There were reportedly as many as 200 people inside.
Brampton, like the rest of Peel Region (which includes Mississauga and Caledon), is still in Stage 2 of Ontario’s plan to reopen the province during COVID-19. Gatherings are limited to 10 people in this stage, with proper physical distancing measures in place.
This means the house party was 20 times above the temporary limit mandated by provincial law.
What was that famous quip Bob Uecker uttered in the 1989 film Major League?
“Just a bit outside.”
Const. Kyle Villers went much further. He described the incident as “disheartening” to the Canadian Press on July 27. “It shows the complete disregard for the health and well-being of everybody in Brampton. To have a party with this many people given the state of the world with COVID-19 is a ripe opportunity for another outbreak.”
Villers was absolutely right.
Yes, the pandemic has been frustrating for everyone. Our freedom of movement and association have been sorely limited. Self-isolation isn’t an ideal situation for most people. Many of us hadn’t seen our family and friends in the flesh for several months, and are only just starting to reconnect.
Nevertheless, this house party was an aberration. Much like the sudden gathering of the millennials at Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park in late May, it was nothing more than an attempt to thumb one’s nose at society and authority.
It also introduced the possibility of another COVID-19 outbreak in Brampton. If this were to happen, it could force Peel Region to remain in Stage 2 for even longer.
Was it really necessary to create this element of risk?
“The neighbourhood was livid. Bramptonians were upset. When everyone else is doing their jobs, when everyone is following the advice of public health,” Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown told specialty news channel CP24. “This homeowner will be the proud owner of a very, very expensive fine.”
Brampton city officials told the Canadian Press the party’s organizer will be fined $880. This individual will also face charges under the city’s public nuisance bylaw. According to Part V, Penalties, which is pursuant to the Municipal Act, 2001, “The minimum fine for an offence is $500 and the maximum fine for an offence is $100,000.”
I strongly doubt the maximum fine would be levied in this instance.
It seems unreasonable on the surface, irrespective of how stupid the decision was to hold this house party. The fine would also be immediately challenged in the courts and likely reduced to a much smaller amount.
Then again, maybe that’s exactly what should happen.
The law needs to be properly enforced to ensure health and safety standards in all of our communities are maintained during COVID-19. When a vaccine is (hopefully) discovered, or countries gradually develop herd immunity, the size of public gatherings will no longer be a bone of contention for government or society.
Plus, the one-time threat of a $100,000 fine for being a public nuisance, and subsequent ruling against the guilty party (even if the total dollar figure was later adjusted), would frighten off potential copycats.
As draconian as a massive fine would undoubtedly be, it would also keep these foolish mortals at bay. Even if the whimsical Puck continues to laugh at us.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.