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Coronavirus: Calgary bylaw officers encouraged to consider ticketing for physical distancing violations

Click to play video: 'Calgary bylaw officers being asked to use tickets as a last resort when it comes to social distancing' Calgary bylaw officers being asked to use tickets as a last resort when it comes to social distancing
Calgary emergency chief Tom Samson says he has instructed bylaw officers to begin educating citizens about social distancing and that tickets are a last resort. – Apr 22, 2020

Calgarians may soon start to see police and bylaw officers issuing fines for people who don’t comply with physical distancing protocols as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) chief Tom Sampson, said Wednesday that bylaw officers will soon be encouraged to use financial penalties as a last resort to help keep residents safe.

READ MORE: RCMP rescind Calgary-area teen’s $1,200 fine for not practising physical distancing in vehicle

Up until this point, Sampson said officers have been focusing on educating the public rather than handing out tickets. However, he said that some residents aren’t taking the safety risks associated with social gatherings serious enough.

“We’re spending lots of time on education, but I’m going to tell you that I’m a little frustrated,” Sampson said.

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“So starting very shortly, we will be encouraging our bylaw services to use ticketing as a last resort.”

Sampson noted that the $1,200 fine is only encouraged for egregious offenders.

Click to play video: 'Can I go running, do outdoor yoga, or have a picnic with friends? Nenshi answers' Can I go running, do outdoor yoga, or have a picnic with friends? Nenshi answers
Can I go running, do outdoor yoga, or have a picnic with friends? Nenshi answers – Apr 22, 2020

So far, bylaw officers have yet to hand out a fine, but hopes if it comes to it, residents will respond accordingly, Sampson said.

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“That $1,200 fine is not a small fee. I don’t think anyone revels in the idea of issuing a $1,200 fine to anyone,” he said.

“But cumulative fines under the Health Act are far more severe. So I think, and I hope and pray, that we never get there.

“I can’t believe that people would have a series of fines and not react appropriately.”

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Sampson also noted that, should it be necessary, under the city’s Emergency Management Act tickets of up to $10,000 and jail-time could be issued to repeat offenders.

“I’m hopeful that we never have to get to repetitive tickets,” Sampson said.

“The Emergency Management Act is also very serious, the fines there are up to $10,000… hopefully, we never have to go there, but we want to have it in our back pocket.”

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Calgary trying not publicize roads for walking in advance – Apr 22, 2020

Sampson added that officers have been diligently monitoring parks and outdoor areas and will continue to do so as the weather remains warm.

“Over the last five days, our officers have conducted more than 240 patrols, and talked with more 1,800 people,” Sampson said.

He also noted that the city’s 311 service has received a large number of COVID-19 related calls over the last five days, including 152 calls requesting information on the physical distancing bylaw.

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There were also 26 calls related to public gatherings and 21 calls regarding playground use.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Calgary mental health services want you to reach out, be self-compassionate

On Wednesday Mayor Naheed Nenshi also took some time to highlight mental health services available to residents in the city during this time of social-isolation.

“If you are concerned about your mental health or the mental health of others, physical distancing does not mean social-isolation,” he said.

“If you find yourself struggling, don’t be shy, call 211 right away and the brilliant people on the other side of the phone will be able to help you.”

Nenshi noted that mental health resources can also be accessed through the provincial government’s website.

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