BARRIE, ONT. -- Metal fencing now surrounds downtown Barrie's Meridian Place, which has been the location of recurring anti-lockdown protests every Saturday.

On Thursday, Mayor Jeff Lehman issued an emergency order to close the public square in the interest of public safety.

"The gatherings that put people's lives at risk need to stop," Lehman said in a statement.

The mayor added that the city would pursue other steps to stop illegal gatherings and hold those responsible for them accountable.

Organized public events and social gatherings are not permitted under the provincial stay-at-home order, which is in effect until May 20.

Barrie Police issued 23 tickets in recent weeks, as hundreds of people defied the order and piled into Meridian Place.

Faiurel to follow an order could result in a $750 fine and possibly a $1,000 fine for preventing others from following an order. 

The organizer of the rallies, Tyler Nicholson, is vowing to return Saturday. "We'll be here at 12 o'clock Saturday, and we'll be peaceful as always," he said Thursday after the city announced the barricade would be erected.