The province says it’s time to crack down on enforcement as COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb, but the messaging to this point has caused some confusion.
“I heard that the Calgary police chief informed Calgary city council on Monday that they were told not to issue tickets and not to clog the courts,” said Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman.
But in a media conference on Wednesday, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said that hasn’t been the message coming from him.
“Quite frankly, I have no idea where that is coming from,” Madu said.
“I can assure that I have not directed any local law enforcement or police services to not enforce the public health order or to issue tickets.
“I think it’s important to say that while it’s true that I am the justice minister and solicitor general, I do not — on a day-to-day-basis — direct how law enforcement is to do this work, neither do I direct the Crown prosecution service on how to prosecute,” Madu said.
Since the pandemic began, Lethbridge police have issued just five charges for failing to comply with the public health orders; as well an two related city bylaw charges.
According to the ministry of justice, 576 tickets were filed with the provincial court in the month of March, but just 12 per cent resulted in a conviction or payment.
The province is upping the fine for breaking COVID-19 restrictions from $1,000 to $2,000 in response to spiking case numbers, and Spearman says he’s in support of stricter enforcement.
“Anybody who is not abiding by the health orders — and encouraging others to not abide by the health orders — is really undermining the message and potentially harming public health in our city.”
The mayor also had a strong message for anyone planning to deliberately skirt the rules.
“I’ve had complains about the demonstrations on Mayor Magrath Drive. I’m very troubled that I heard there were demonstrators harassing people going for their vaccines.
“I’m very concerned there was a demonstration last Saturday in front of Chinook Regional Hospital — where people inside are trying to save lives — I think that’s disrespectful,” he said.
Spearman says that the information the city has been given by Alberta Health shows that the vast majority of community transmission is happening via social interactions and those need to stop.
“People are bored, we understand that, they’re frustrated, they want to see their family, they want to see their friends. But inappropriate social gatherings are a problem,” he said.
“If you’re opposed to these lockdowns… They will end sooner if everybody complies. They will drag out if people do not comply.”
In a statement to Global News, the Lethbridge Police Service said it is continuing to review the details of the enhanced enforcement initiative announced by the province and how that might impact the efforts of officers.
“For those who do not respect the public health order or the well-being of others in the community, Lethbridge police will be taking enforcement actions ranging from warnings to issuing tickets, depending on the circumstances,” the statement read.
The new measures announced by the province include moving students online and closing patios; the new measures apply in municipalities or areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people and with 30 or more active cases.