As Calgary police and bylaw officers continue to navigate through the new challenge of enforcing Alberta’s new COVID-19 public health restrictions, the chief of police said the biggest problem is people who are “blatantly ignoring the laws.”
“The issue is not that they’re unaware and require more education, the issue is simply that they disagree,” chief Mark Neufeld said. “These people will be charged accordingly.”
Neufeld said three more people have been charged in relation to an anti-mask rally that drew hundreds of people to the downtown core over the weekend, in defiance of the provincial 10-person limit on outdoor social gatherings and the city’s face covering bylaw.
In addition to the three announced yesterday, that’s a total of six individuals all charged under the Public Health Act for violating a public health order, and given a bylaw ticket for not wearing a mask. One of the alleged organizers was also charged with holding an event without a permit.
CPS said since the enhanced measures were announced, it has issued 38 tickets — not including the six recently announced — and they involved a mix of violations relating to masking and social gatherings.
The City of Calgary said regarding transit numbers when it comes to mask enforcement, there have been three written warning tickets and five violation tickets issued. These are pertaining to city bylaw only, a Calgary spokesperson said.
Officials are already preparing for another rally this coming weekend, where it’s expected people won’t be wearing masks or limiting attendance.
Neufeld said the force acknowledges peoples’ right to gather and rally for their cause — adding that sometimes officers will attend certain protests to show their support — but with limits placed on gatherings of that kind, those rallies are not acceptable right now.
“I appreciate that there are those who would disagree that the limitations and restraints are reasonable, and who might want to debate. The place to do that debating is not in Olympic Plaza and it’s not on Stephen Avenue,” he said.
“The place, in fact, to do that is in the court room where judges will hear the evidence, hear the arguments and ultimately, make a decision.”
He stressed officers’ presence at events like the weekend rally shouldn’t be seen as condoning or encouraging law breakers.
Enforcement can be a ‘very difficult job’
Neufeld commended three police officers seen in a video posted to social media on Wednesday, who were filmed while delivering tickets to two people believed to have organized Sunday’s rally.
In the video, a man identifying himself as Artur Pawlowski is heard calling the three female officers “Nazis” and referring to them as “the Gestapo” as he refuses to accept the tickets.
“It was a heated and, at times, rather objectionable outburst directed at the officers who were simply doing their job by enforcing these very, very important orders,” Neifeld said.
“I want to I want to reiterate how proud I am of these officers and the professionalism that they demonstrated. We will continue with these sorts of constructive and respectful interactions with members of the community, even as we work with our city partners to pursue enforcement against those who choose to break the law.”
Neufeld said it can be a “very difficult job” for officers to hand tickets to people who hold ideologies that are in defiance of the laws currently in effect.
When asked if anyone attending a rally like the one held on the weekend would be considered to be “blatantly ignoring the laws,” Neufeld said that would be “fair to say.”
Neufeld said it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to that kind of activity, but said officers are “starting with the organizers and people responsible for convening these rallies.”
He said he hopes those actions will mean there won’t be a need to ticket people in attendance at unsanctioned rallies.