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Winkler cops fielding angry calls on both sides of vaccine debate

Click to play video: 'Police called to disputes over mask use in Winkler' Police called to disputes over mask use in Winkler
"It's concerning when it starts to escalate to that point..." Winkler's police chief Ryan Hunt talks about officers being called to two disputes over mask use in the community.  – Sep 16, 2021

The chief of police in the city of Winkler says his officers have had their work cut out for them since mask and vaccine mandates began.

The southern Manitoba city, 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, has faced significant division among its residents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with much lower vaccine uptake than the provincial average, and tensions on the rise.

Chief Ryan Hunt said his city is still full of good people, but the tone has certainly changed in recent months — a timeframe that included an incident where a woman was allegedly run off the road by angry anti-maskers.

“There’s good, hard-working, generous people on both sides of the public health orders and on both sides of the vaccine issue but this pandemic has definitely driven a wedge into our community,” said Hunt.

“Generally, when you’re enforcing the Criminal Code, you’ve got 99 per cent support of the public, but when you’re enforcing the public health orders, the percentage wouldn’t be nearly as high.”

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Read more: Winkler mayor says punitive approach to vaccine opponents isn’t working

Hunt said it’s nothing new for police to receive angry phone calls and emails, but his officers are getting bombarded with rage from people on all sides of the issue.

“We get phone calls at our office here — phone calls and emails — from people who are angry that we’re enforcing these health orders at all, but we also get angry phone calls and emails from people who think we aren’t enforcing them enough,” he said.

“It’s just extremely divided and it is a struggle for the officers. It’s a tough time for everybody — being in a pandemic is not fun for everyone.

“Businesses are having a tough time and individuals as well, so we’re certainly not alone in that.”

In late August, Winkler Mayor Martin Harder told Global News he didn’t feel the province’s efforts at taking a punitive approach to those who didn’t follow public health orders was working — at least not in his community.

“I think we need to have positive messaging, something we can actually sell, rather than just, ‘We’re going to punish you for this,'” Harder said Aug. 26.

“A regional lockdown would blow up. I know that from the people around here, I know that from the people around Manitoba.”

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