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Don’t call 911 to report COVID-19-related complaints: Edmonton police

Edmonton police are reminding citizens that 911 is for emergencies only and should not be used to report COVID-19 violations. File photo

Local police are fielding calls about non-compliance with the latest Alberta Health COVID-19 restrictions. But they’re reminding people that 911 is for emergencies only.

“The EPS would like to remind citizens to not call 911 to submit COVID-19-related complaints,” Edmonton police stressed in a news release Sunday.

That day, Alberta Health confirmed 1,608 new cases of COVID-19 and reported nine deaths. There were 435 Albertans in hospital, 95 of whom were in intensive care. The province said it tested 23,282 Albertans for COVID-19 on Saturday.

Click to play video 'Alberta declares state of public health emergency amid 2nd wave of COVID-19' Alberta declares state of public health emergency amid 2nd wave of COVID-19
Alberta declares state of public health emergency amid 2nd wave of COVID-19 – Nov 24, 2020

On Nov. 24, Premier Jason Kenney declared a state of public health emergency — Alberta’s second since the pandemic began here in March.

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Several new restrictions were announced, including 25 per cent capacity limits on many businesses and a ban on all indoor social gatherings.

Read more: More peace officers to enforce COVID-19 restrictions as Alberta records 1,227 new cases

On Friday, the justice minister said Alberta is empowering an additional 700 peace officers in the province to be able to issue fines against people who break the rules.

“This is not my preference,” Kaycee Madu said at a news conference in Edmonton. “(But we need) to respond quickly and decisively to situations where Albertans are breaking health measures.

“Those who choose to break the rules will be subject to fine,” he said, reminding Albertans those fines can range from $1,000 to $100,000.

Read more: Edmonton to temporarily close 22 arenas, urges people to avoid non-essential travel

Madu said authority has been granted to Level 2 Alberta peace officers and Level 1 community peace officers employed by municipalities.

Edmonton has 150 Level 1 peace officers (peace officers and transit peace officers) and less than 10 Level 2 peace officers. So city staff believe all of the city’s peace officers will have enforcement powers.

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Click to play video 'Alberta temporarily increases amount of peace officers allowed to sanction fines during COVID-19 pandemic' Alberta temporarily increases amount of peace officers allowed to sanction fines during COVID-19 pandemic
Alberta temporarily increases amount of peace officers allowed to sanction fines during COVID-19 pandemic – Nov 27, 2020

Local police are asking people who want to report a public health order violation to contact Alberta Health Services. Reports can be made online here or by calling 1-833-415-9179.

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COVID-19 complaints specific to Edmonton can be made online here. The city said complaints on the face coverings bylaw can be directed to the 311 app or online form.

Only if the situation requires the assistance of police should people call, EPS said. They should not use 911 but rather the EPS non-emergency complaint line at 780-423-4567.

Alberta Health Services Environmental Public Health received 433 COVID-19-related complaints on Friday, 292 on Saturday and 178 on Sunday.

To compare, there were 318, 328 and 275 complaints on Nov. 16, 17 and 18. There were 303, 574 and 503 complaints on Nov. 24, 25 and 26, respectively.

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Shift from education to enforcement

In Calgary, the leaders of the Emergency Management Agency and the police department stressed the time for warnings and education is over.

CEMA Chief Tom Sampson said since the province declared its second state of public health emergency and provided clarity on fines and peace officers’ powers, there’s been a shift towards stricter enforcement of the face covering bylaw (and provincial public health order).

Read more: Alberta enacts 2nd COVID-19 state of public health emergency. Here’s what it means

Sampson said bylaw and police officers — as well as Alberta Health — have been educating people for eight months now. Warnings and information were the preferred routes during the first lockdown, he said.

“We need to start a more stringent enforcement program.

“This time, our peace officers are going to be focusing on enforcement and making sure there’s strict compliance with the public health orders.”

Click to play video 'Calgary police address enforcement concerns following anti-mask protest' Calgary police address enforcement concerns following anti-mask protest
Calgary police address enforcement concerns following anti-mask protest – Nov 30, 2020

Sampson said Calgary is working with the province to ensure all its officers (including Level 2) are given enforcement capabilities.

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He said people breaking the rules should expect to get a ticket.

“Countless warnings have been issued in the past months in the hopes of ensuring voluntarily compliance,” Calgary Police Supt. Ryan Ayliffe added. “The time for education has passed.”

He said since the province tightened up its health restrictions, Calgary officers have issued a number of tickets but he didn’t know the exact amount.

Read more: Hundreds of Calgarians protest mandatory COVID-19 restrictions

Ayliffe said there were police officers at the anti-mask rallies over the past two weekends “gathering evidence,” identifying and addressing offenders.

Ayliffe said “a handful” of tickets will be issued connected to those protests, focusing on organizers and those “flagrantly” disobeying public health orders.

Click to play video 'Protests defy public health measures as COVID-19 cases surge' Protests defy public health measures as COVID-19 cases surge
Protests defy public health measures as COVID-19 cases surge – Nov 29, 2020

“The public knows what to do,” Samson added. “They know what the right behaviour is.

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“We know we have a situation that is soon getting out of control. They should be taking action. They shouldn’t need someone in a uniform to tell them that.”

In Edmonton, enforcement efforts this past weekend were focused on the face covering bylaw. While compliance remains high in most public spaces, two warnings and three tickets were issued over the weekend.

The city said it received the appropriate written authority Monday to begin enforcement of the public health orders and city officers will begin issuing warnings and fines Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Police and Alberta Health Services are also enforcing these public health orders. Only EPS and AHS will address social gathering complaints at private dwellings, the city said.

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