Birthday at skate park brings unwelcome $880 fine for Ottawa teen’s family

Ottawa

An Ottawa family says they were shocked to receive an $880 fine days after letting their 14-year-old son use a nearby skateboarding park on his birthday.

An Ottawa family says they were shocked to receive an $880 fine days after letting their 14-year-old son use a nearby skateboarding park on his birthday.

Merrick Batstone's family decided to celebrate his 14th birthday on May 3 by visiting Legacy Skatepark to enjoy some fresh air and exercise.

The family said there were no barriers or signs indicating the public park was off limits, and Merrick was wearing a face mask and keeping a safe distance from others. But it wasn't long before Ottawa bylaw officers showed up and told everyone to leave.

The family says they were never asked to provide identification, but days later, a bylaw officer knocked on their door and handed them an $880 ticket for violating COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Hey <a href="https://twitter.com/OttawaSkate613?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OttawaSkate613</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/SkateboardCanad?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SkateboardCanad</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/SkateboardCan?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SkateboardCan</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Troubl3skates?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Troubl3skates</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/connectskate?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@connectskate</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/topskateshop?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@topskateshop</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/girlsskate613?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@girlsskate613</a><br><br>Here is Merrick, 14yo, getting an 850$ ticket in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ottawa?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Ottawa</a> for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/skateboarding?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#skateboarding</a> at park with a mask on. He was there this weekend on his birthday for 30 minutes of exercise <a href="https://t.co/2Th9OAR5fI">pic.twitter.com/2Th9OAR5fI</a>

&mdash;@ParagonCause

"I was shocked," said Michelle Opthof, Merrick's mother. "$880, that can be someone's rent for the month, and I couldn't believe it."

"I felt horrible," Merrick said. "I think I did all the precautions, like with the two-metre distancing, and I just honestly didn't know what was wrong with what I was doing."

'It felt … so disheartening'

The provincewide stay-at-home order issued last month initially forbid the use of outdoor playgrounds and park equipment. But after a public outcry, the province reversed those restrictions a few days later.

Opthof said she assumed that included restrictions on skate parks.

"I just felt really frustrated because us as a family … we've done everything we can, and then to get slapped with this. It felt … so disheartening, and I felt really discouraged," she said.

Here is the high risk Covid spreading behaviour of Merrick, alone, with a mask. 880$ fine for this move, it would have been worth it if he pulled off a full 360. Oh yes… He also has a broken arm. <a href="https://twitter.com/CBCOttawa?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBCOttawa</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/OttawaMorning?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OttawaMorning</a> <a href="https://t.co/Z91fQGUN0E">pic.twitter.com/Z91fQGUN0E</a>

&mdash;@ParagonCause

Merrick recently suffered a broken arm and said skateboarding is one of the few outdoor activities he can take part in at the moment.

"I could stay inside and play guitar, but I'm not really getting any exercise," he said.

More bylaw officers deployed after complaints

Michael Lalonde, a spokesperson with the city's bylaw and regulatory services department, said more officers have been deployed to skate parks and basketball courts because of a growing number of complaints.

"Officers have been doing this for the past year and a bit. They are aware of the repeat offenders. They are aware of the problematic areas in parks. Our goal is always to educate, but education only goes so far," Lalonde said.

Merrick Batstone, 14, shows the $880 ticket handed to his family days after he visited Legacy Skatepark.(Submitted by Michelle Opthof)

Merrick's family said that was their first encounter with a bylaw officer at a skate park. In cases where officers are unable to identify the alleged offender at the scene, they have 30 days to issue a ticket, Lalonde said.

He said signs marking skate parks as off limits have been posted but might have been torn down.

The family said they plan to fight the ticket in court and want to know why skate parks are off limits when playgrounds and other facilities are open.

"Though we are not at liberty to confirm any details on this case, as it is currently before the courts, the city can confirm that no individuals under the age of 16 can legally be fined and were not fined in this instance," Tania McCumber, acting director of the city's bylaw department, said in an emailed statement late Friday.

Opthof's name is on the ticket. She wasn't using the skate park herself but was watching her son from the car. She said bylaw officers only became aware of her when she approached them to ask if the family should leave.

Merrick's stepfather, Jamie Bonaparte, said the family are happy to follow public health guidelines, "but they have to be based on some sort of reality and some sort of evidence that it's actually going to make a difference."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Williams is a video journalist with CBC Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter with CBC P.E.I. and as an associate producer with CBC News in Toronto.

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