'Letting a few affect many': Enforcement needed to protect Calgarians, city says
Now that the law prevents outdoor gatherings larger than 10 people, it is illegal to hold mass protests in Alberta. (File)
CALGARY -- Now that new restrictions have put prohibitions on how many people can gather outside, among other limits, the city says there is much more of a reason for law enforcement agencies to step in.
The City of Calgary says educating residents about the rules around the COVID-19 pandemic is having less of an impact on keeping numbers down, so it is now taking a harder look at enforcement.
Outgoing Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Chief Tom Sampson says the city has been working with the province on ways to make sure everyone follows the new rules announced Tuesday.
"We are optimistic that we can get a solution that will work for Calgarians," he said.
There are just 15 Level 1 peace officers in Calgary, Sampson said, adding those personnel were responsible for enforcement actions. He says the city wants the province's permission to expand those powers to their Level 2 counterparts.
"If that was the case and they were able to see their way clear to do that, that would be most beneficial,” he said.
Sampson says limits are important, but enforcement of the limits is vital as well.
"We're at a point now where we've done a lot of education. There may still be more opportunities for more education," he said. "We believe, like I believe the province thinks, that there's a time now and that's a time when if COVID keeps going down this road – keeps presenting us a challenge – that we are letting a few affect many. As a result, enforcement will need to come into play."
Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the province's new rules apply to outdoor gatherings, limiting them to 10 people or less, so enforcement will become a much bigger issue when it comes to anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests that have recently taken place.
"If you gather in groups of more than 10 people, you are committing an illegal act. Of course, police will always use their discretion in situations like this – they don't want the enforcement to cause more danger to people. But I want to let you know – whether you agree or disagree, you have the right to assemble peacefully but, right now, the law says you can only gather in a group of 10."
Sampson says the Calgary Police Service is in talks with Alberta's chief medical officer of health and has pledged to "take action" where people are at risk of being infected with COVID-19.
"We hope that that doesn't occur. We all know how important this is," he said. "We're not just fighting a virus – we're fighting a mental health and wellness challenge and we're fighting the effects of that virus on our economy. This is really that time where we really need to chip in together and make this work."
Friday's daily COVID-19 update had good news for Sampson, Nenshi and other officials in the city of Calgary. The province announced additional powers for Alberta's peace officers as well as paving the way to recruit 700 more personnel to hand out tickets and fines.
"You are going to see a heightened level of enforcement in those cases where there are individuals who are blatantly not compliant with the measures," Alberta's Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu said during the announcement.
Officials say the new officers will be watching out for private social gatherings and other violations of the province's new regulations.
The fine for breaking the rules is $1,000, but that levy is increased to $100,000 if the case requires a court hearing.