The City of Calgary is still working through the latest public health orders announced Tuesday afternoon by the Alberta government. But one thing is clear: the city has more resources for enforcement of those orders and it is ready to use them.
Referencing repeated and upcoming weekends of anti-mask rallies in the municipal plaza, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said those people know what they’re doing is wrong and the city isn’t going to stand for participants putting other Calgarians at risk of catching COVID-19.
“We will go after these people,” Nenshi said Wednesday. “We know who they are. We will ticket them as we need to and we’re encouraging them to stop being so frickin’ self-indulgent.”
More than 100 peace officers are now able to enforce the new public health orders, thanks to approval from the Alberta government on Monday for Level 2 peace officers to issue tickets.
Calgary police and bylaw officers issued six tickets to people contravening the public health orders that were in place last Wednesday and Sunday, chief bylaw officer Ryan Pleckaitis said.
“On Friday, we received a call to attend a religious gathering that was taking place in a location that did not have an approved development or building permit,” Pleckaitis said. “After our investigation, our partners in Calgary Building Services have now issued three tickets into the land use bylaw, each one of those tickets carrying a specified penalty of $3,000.”
Bylaw officers are also investigating a complaint from Sunday of an over-capacity church and congregants not wearing masks.
Pleckaitis said most faith-based organizations are complying with the public health orders, keeping their followers safe. The chief bylaw officer encouraged services be moved online with new occupancy restrictions reducing capacity to 15 per cent.
“But if groups are not, you’re potentially holding super spreader events and we will take enforcement action as necessary.”
Fines for breaking the public health orders can run from $1,000 for the first offence, up to a court-ordered $100,000.
Pleckaitis said complaints are now being handled by the community standards department, which includes bylaw, freeing up the Calgary Police Service (CPS). He also said bylaw is sharing information and stats with CPS.
In a statement to Global News, the CPS said its “intent is not to punish, but to protect the safety of Calgarians” through the pandemic.
“Due to safety concerns for both law enforcement and members of the community, it is not always prudent to issue a ticket at the time of an alleged offence,” the statement reads, noting tickets are often issued in days following the infraction.
“Please don’t take the perceived appearance of lack of enforcement, as a reflection of our intent to ticket those who flout the law.”
City facilities TBD
Less than 24 hours after the new public health orders were enacted by the province, the city was still trying to understand how they will impact civic operations and services.
“The city fully supports the province’s new measures and we look forward to working with them, working with our citizens, in the spirit of slowing the spread of COVID(-19),” Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Sue Henry said.
“The spirit of the orders is clear: we need to flatten the curve and help reduce the spread of COVID(-19).”
Henry said the city will explain how city facilities and services will change under the new orders on the city’s website, 311 and through media releases.
It’s also unclear whether city employees will be facing any layoffs or furloughs, though the mayor “(imagines) there will be.”
“Certainly we are looking at ways in which we can mitigate any impact on people,” Nenshi said. “We’re not eligible as a municipality for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which is too bad. But we will see some impacts through our recreation system as well as through the Calgary Public Library.”
Calgary YMCAs are having to shutter their facilities at end of day on Saturday.
Ken Lima-Coehlo, a Calgary YMCA VP, tweeted all staff will continue to be paid until the end of the year.
The mayor encouraged anyone who may have recently lost work hours or pay due to the new public health orders to enrol in the Canada Recovery Benefit.
“If you find yourself in really dire straits, then please call 211 immediately,” Nenshi said. “If you need assistance to avoid eviction, for example, or you need emergency food assistance, there are plenty of organizations in Calgary that are there to help you bridge that gap, and 211 can refer you to those as well.”
Nenshi also said that the city is seeing between three and five new COVID-19 cases from the city’s homeless population per day, and anticipates those numbers to increase.
He said the city is making sure there are emergency housing options available, in concert with community agencies and the Alberta government, including hotel rooms for self-isolation if individuals aren’t able to safely do so.
“If we’re in a total emergency, that’s what my colleagues at CEMA are here for,” the mayor said. “We’ve got cots. We’ve got gyms that have now been closed and convention centres.
“If it’s a matter of putting that to work so people don’t freeze to death, we will do so.”
The mayor said the city is analyzing and interpreting how the new public health orders could affect outdoor activities for Calgarians.
“Can you go out with your running club? And the answer seems to be, if it’s only about running, you can do it, but you can’t socialize before or after,” Nenshi said.
The mayor also said the city isn’t currently looking at changing public outdoor gathering places, or the rules and restrictions that govern them. But that could change, in order to keep the public safe.
“You may see restrictions on the number of people who were there, going down,” Nenshi said. “You may see further restrictions. For now, we’re hoping to keep those things open as an option for families.”
That goes for the city’s recently-announced, “tremendously successful” outdoor fire pit program.
“There is nothing preventing people from booking one of those fire pits for their own family cohort,” the mayor said. “And we have lots and lots of bookings and permits going forward, which we will likely honour.
“We are asking people to restrict yourselves to your family cohort because otherwise your social gatherings are not allowed.”
In a news release issued late Wednesday, the city clarified that any existing permits to use the winter firepits are valid for members of the same household only, and that it is not taking applications for new permits.
–with files from Adam MacVicar, Global NewsView link »