Calgary and Edmonton’s police chiefs said Wednesday that their forces are prepared to issue tickets to those who refuse to comply with COVID-19 rules, after receiving a letter requesting enforcement from Dr. Deena Hinshaw last week.
In her letter dated Nov. 12, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health asked police chiefs around the province to start enforcing new provincial measures that were introduced this month, such as early closure times for bars and restaurants.
“I have written a letter to police chiefs across the province asking for their help in enforcing the current measures and doing our best to step up the reinforcement of the importance of them,” Hinshaw said during her provincial COVID-19 update on Monday.
In Alberta, police have the authority to issue tickets to those who break the rules, starting at a $1,000 fee and potentially going up to $500,000. However, through the pandemic, police agencies have continued to focus on education over ticketing.
Calgary’s police chief Mark Neufeld said Wednesday that he has received the letter, and while the force is still favouring the education focus, as cases rise to record-breaking levels it has become more imperative that people follow the rules.
In Alberta’s capital, chief Dale McFee echoed the sentiments and said Wednesday that while the Edmonton Police Service is continuing to educate people on the rules, COVID-19 “isn’t going away soon.”
“With the increase of cases that we have, and people aren’t complying, then there’s a good chance they’re gonna end up with tickets,” he said.
“We hope that people start to recognize the seriousness of this.”
In Edmonton, police said they had issued 76 tickets for COVID-19 violations between April 8 and May 13, and another 14 between May 14 and June 12. No tickets have been issued since then.
Since April, the Calgary Police Service said it has issued 38 public health order tickets related to people breaking provincial rules like not physically distancing.
The force has also issued six tickets related to the municipal face-covering bylaw that was put into place on Aug. 1.
Alberta Health told Global News Wednesday that AHS responded to 39,014 complaints regarding COVID-19 between March 1 and Nov. 18.
The majority of those were in the province’s two largest cities — with 42 per cent, or 16,311 in Calgary zone and 34 per cent, or 13,174, in Edmonton zone.
“How police services choose to respond to Dr. Hinshaw’s request will be decided by police services at the local level, independently of the government,” said Zoë Cooper, an Alberta Health spokesperson, in an emailed statement Wednesday. “This approach gives police services the flexibility to have a dialogue with local levels of government and health officials in their area to develop a response that best ensures the health and safety of people in their jurisdiction.”
She added that government officials also make “every effort” to work with owners and operators before enforcement action like business closures.
McFee is also the president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police. He said that while he is unsure if the tickets will change the minds of those who aren’t following the rules, forces will begin writing them out where it is appropriate to do so.
“The only way we’re going to get out of this is if we stop thinking about ourselves and we start thinking about each other,” he said. “I think there’s a method to do that. Whether tickets are going to help with that, I’m not sure they will. But will we write tickets if no one is complying? You bet we will.”
Hinshaw said Monday she hopes that Albertans comply with the current restrictions as opposed to receiving tickets.
“It is disappointing that there are those who think that the health of our communities is being taken lightly and that these measures are not necessary,” Hinshaw said.
“The impacts on the acute care system are going to have impacts on many Albertans who can’t get other services that they need if we don’t stop the spread.
“I will continue to do my best to provide information, to provide the rationale for why these are important measures and again, work on enforcement of those measures that are non-negotiable and that are legally required.”