Officials in Alberta’s two largest cities say there’s still a lot to be determined before peace officers start enforcing new COVID-19-related restrictions around social gatherings in the home.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced a second state of emergency due to coronavirus case numbers in Alberta, along with new restrictions including banning all social gatherings in the home, anywhere in the province.
“If you’re holding indoor social events, they’re now illegal,” Kenney said. “That’s pretty astonishing. And those rules will be enforced to our greatest ability.”
But while Kenney said peace officers would be given more powers in the coming days and weeks, he did not provide specific details or when those powers would actually come into place.
In Alberta, police were given the authority in April to issue tickets to those who break the rules, starting with 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.
“We will be expanding the number of enforcement officers who are designated to enforce public health orders under the public health act,” Kenney said Tuesday.
“We will make a final decision later this week, but likely will include Level 1 and Level 2 peace officers.”
In Alberta, Level 1 peace officers are employed through the Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security. They may have the authority to carry a firearm and can enforce traffic violations, transport prisoners and provide court security.
Level 2 officers are employed through the government and have “very specific” knowledge in a certain sector, such as fraud, fish and wildlife, and compliance officers.
A statement from Alberta’s ministry of the Justice and Solicitor General Wednesday said that the details will be “finalized soon.”
“For example, expanding authorities to certain community peace officers could increase the number of officers who are able to fine by about 600. In the coming days, Alberta’s government will determine how best to expand these authorities.”
Cities will work with province once rules are clear: Iveson, Nenshi
City officials say there’s still a lot that needs to be cleared up before municipalities can announce how they will enforce the provincial measures.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said Wednesday he was pleased with the new measures, but the city was waiting for clarification on the peace officer powers before he could say whether Edmonton needs its own measures.
“Enforcement remains a key element of success in our COVID-19 response, which is why I was pleased to hear that the province has heard our desire to assist, and is seriously considering delegating enforcement powers for municipal peace officers to enforce these public health emergency orders,” he said.
“It sounds encouraging that the province is going to come through on that delegated authority.”
Violations of the COVID-19 public health order can be reported to Alberta Health Services online, or through your local police department’s non-emergency lines.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has pressed for increased measures over the past few weeks, said that city is also working out the details.
“It is going to be very important for our peace officers to be able to enforce.”
Calgary declared a local state of emergency Wednesday, while Edmonton did not.
Tom Sampson, chief of Calgary Emergency Management, said the city needs time to work out its role when it comes to enforcement. .
“It will take some time until we have absolute clarity on the impacts of these measures,” he said. “This includes our power to enforce any provincial orders, and clarification on provincial versus municipal enforcement”
Kenney said he believes it will be clear for the officers — once they are officially given the powers — to determine if there are rule breakers.
“It’s up to the police and peace officers to operationalize this,” Kenney said. “I anticipate that they will be able to see if there are obvious signs of a large gathering — a lot of cars parked outside somebody’s house.”
Iveson said he hopes Edmontonians don’t take this as a situation where they are pitted against one another if they spot people who appear to be ignoring the health measures.
“There may be language barriers, or cultural factors, or a misunderstanding that is a human explanation for why people appear to be doing the wrong thing at such a critical time, so I would just suggest that Edmontonians are at their best when they start at that place,” he said.
The City of Edmonton will be holding an Emergency Advisory Committee meeting Friday, and hope the province will have clearer guidance on restriction enforcement.
The province also announced Tuesday that Albertans cannot dine in restaurants with those outside of their households, unless they live alone. Those who live alone can designate two close contacts to continue seeing while the restrictions are in place, and will be allowed to dine with them. Up to six people from one household can still dine-in at restaurants.
Details were also not given on how the dine-in rules will be enforced.