OPP says crowds overwhelming at Wasaga Beach car rally

The Ontario Provincial Police said hundreds, upwards to thousands, showed up to an unauthorized car rally in Wasaga Beach over the weekend. Police shut down the town in order to control the crowds. LOWEREDNIAGARA / INSTAGRAM

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OPP officers temporarily shut down Wasaga Beach to visitors over the weekend after hundreds of people flocked to the popular Georgian Bay town to attend a car rally.

Sgt. Jason Folz said crowds of people started showing up at the town and its long strip of beach — located 150 kilometres north of Toronto — on Friday and were still there on Sunday.

The rally wasn’t a sanctioned event, he said, and was loosely associated with an event called H20i, an import car festival held in the United States. Folz said because Canadians couldn’t cross the border to join it, they decided to hold their own at Wasaga Beach.

In order to disperse the crowds, Folz said police temporarily shut down the town down to visitors Saturday night. But as of Sunday, the town reopened and the rally continued for the remainder of the day.

He estimated that on Saturday, the “hordes” were upwards to thousands of people. The attendants allegedly ignored social gathering limits and participants overtook local roads. Many were not practising physical distancing or wearing masks, police said.

“It’s quite frankly too large,” he said.

“We were setting spot checks on Friday, taking enforcement action against cars deemed to be dangerous and should not be on the road,” he added. “We laid a bunch of Highway Traffic Act charges there and towed some cars. Into Saturday, we were using provisions of the Reopening Ontario Act, trying to keep people distanced, which wasn’t happening. It’s a sheer numbers game. They overwhelm an area with sheer numbers and they do what they want.”

Folz said OPP were aware of the social media event postings and had enough time to call for backup from police from York and Peel regions. OPP used its plane and helicopter to monitor the situation.

“We were able to follow some of them after they performed different stunts and get video of them and collect evidence,” he said.

Folz said the OPP likely won’t have an accurate number of charges laid until Monday.

On Sunday, Ontario reported 491 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, the highest number since May 2.

“The OPP are taking the lead on operations this weekend and the town is prepared to assist them as requested,” Town of Wasaga Beach spokesperson Michael Gennings said Sunday.

“Police are responsible for public safety. The behaviour of some visitors this weekend is disgraceful. There has been dangerous driving, improper social distancing, and other activities against the law.”

Wasaga Beach Mayor Nina Bifolchi said she was aware of the unauthorized car rally in a media release earlier this week.

“Based on information the town is aware of, this pop-up event is unacceptable for a number of reasons. In other communities where it has taken place, the OPP have advised of laws being broken and disrespect shown towards local businesses and residents,” Bifolchi said.

“Speeding, excessive noise, and dangerous driving are just some of the things that have occurred elsewhere due to this event. We have consulted with the Ontario Provincial Police about this rally and they are taking the lead to ensure public safety.”

The town said residents and visitors would see a “stepped-up OPP presence” over the weekend because of the event and warned officers would focus their efforts on traffic incidents and towing and impounding vehicles when appropriate.

jyuen@postmedia.com

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