From the looks of Mayor John Tory’s social media accounts, the sweet day has arrived: we can all ditch the masks and finally party with hundreds of others.
On Sunday, a series of three photos appeared on Mayor Tory’s social media accounts in celebration of Italy’s Euro Cup final win, with an accompanying caption: “What a game! Dropped by Café Diplomatico in Little Italy for the #Euro2020Final.”
"Over the weekend, the Mayor was pleased to see people outside enjoying our city safely again," said Lawvin Hadisi, Mayor Tory's press secretary. "He was out visiting businesses, restaurants, and people to show his support and encourage everyone to safely enjoy the vibrancy of our city. He dropped by Café Diplomatico to cheer on Italy during the Euro Cup finals (and to have a beer and some pizza!)."
In the first photo, a smiling Tory is photographed on the beloved College Street restaurant's patio, sitting alone at a table with a pint of beer within reach. Directly behind him, a group of fellow fans is photographed -- all within a distance that their enthusiastic cheers could easily result in droplets being shot right into Tory’s beer.
It's important to note that as of June 27, the mayor has been fully vaccinated; putting him right at the two-week safety zone mark for Sunday’s big game. Furthermore, fewer than 10 others appear in these shots (but it’s safe to assume there were more fellow sports fans behind them). Under the current Step 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan, outdoor public gathering are allowed with up to 25 people.
So, technically, the mayor isn’t photographed breaking these rules himself.
But it’s the third shot in the series that's raising eyebrows and may get the blood boiling for some -- from rule abiding Toronto citizens to small business owners. This photo (represented in full size on Twitter) captures a crowd of well over 25 fans jam-packed together, with zero masks in sight. If it wasn’t clear in the first two shots that the crowd beyond the camera lens included hundreds, it was in this photo.
Countless social media users have been quick to point out the contradictory messaging in the comment section (at time of writing, the comments have gone unacknowledged).
To be clear: I’m in no way complaining about the long-awaited return to normalcy. I welcome it with open arms. After living through the hell of infamously becoming the most locked down city in the world, the sounds of cheering fans and sights of crowded streets is more goosebump-inducing than any game.
And I'm thrilled by the celebration, hope, and normalcy conveyed in Tory's shots as it relates to the slowing pandemic.
But, for the yoga studio owner who is still not open for in-person business, or the restauranteur who has been meticulously following public health guidelines on their limited-capacity patios, a photo that essentially promotes the carefree gathering of crowds larger than those currently allowed on the mayor of Toronto’s social media accounts may not sit well. Just sayin.'
On patios, no more than six people can sit at the same table, guest capacity is significantly reduced (directly affecting already fragile livelihoods) and all tables are meticulously socially distanced. So, what's with the promotion of unregulated and rowdy crowds (as fun as the scene looked)?
"With public health indicators moving in the right direction and over 60% of residents in Toronto fully vaccinated, we’re now just days away from entering Step 3, a significant step forward in our path towards reopening," said Hadisi. "The more progress we make the more we can open up in the direction of a more normal life."
Fair; and we share the sentiment.
But, aside from the devastating mental health impacts associated with a harsh and never-ending lockdown, what has been most frustrating to me throughout this whole ordeal has been the arbitrary nature of some decision-making and the fact that so many politicians have not practised what they’ve so relentlessly preached to the cameras.
From Doug Ford hosting his family for Mother’s Day in 2020 after telling us not to, to former finance minister Rod Phillips jetting off to St. Bart’s for Christmas while the rest of us were told not to travel, to Trudeau gathering maskless with fellow G7 leaders, the optics just aren't great from a public trust point of view.
I appreciate a lot about Tory: his passion for the city, his fun-loving nature, and his shameless pandemic hairstyle. But this social media move was a questionable one. (And, yes, I fully acknowledge that it’s not Tory himself doing the posting).
Either way, the question remains: is it indeed safe to finally get the party started and gather maskless in crowds?
Ontario reported just 146 new COVID-19 cases for July 12, and no day in July has seen higher than 244 new cases -- the kinds of numbers last posted in early September 2020 when vaccines hadn't even been introduced yet.
"The health advice is clear – getting both vaccines will help protect yourself, your community and your loved ones," says Hadisi. "As we continue to vaccinate more people, we can move forward in putting this pandemic behind us and go back to enjoying the Toronto we know and love.”
I guess we can start to make up for lost time.