'Pretty egregious': Burritos in the park during COVID-19 pandemic land Calgary friends $1,200 tickets
CALGARY -- Three friends say they are planning to fight their hefty social distancing fines and are calling on officers to focus their efforts on educating the public, not ticketing.
Joe Viszmeg, who was recently laid off from his position on a film production, met with two friends last Friday. He says he'd been abiding by the rules since the pandemic arrived in Calgary and is on 'Team Stay Inside'.
"As soon as the state of emergency was called I stayed quarantined for 21 days," said Viszmeg. "The first time I came out was actually for groceries. After that was just to meet up with my buddies here for some burritos."
On April 24, the three friends made plans to get together near the Repsol Centre and spend some time outside.
"We messaged. We were all cooped up. It was really nice out and we were like 'What can we do to see each other that's reasonable?'. We ordered some burritos, picked them up, biked down here to eat the burritos and we were following Dr. Deena Hinshaw's quotes exactly. It is OK to be outside even with people you don't live with as long as you're separated and we were doing just that."
Viszmeg says the group was listening to some reggae in the park along the Elbow River — "I didn't bring a metre stick with me but we were trying to stay apart" — when bylaw officers "beelined" toward them.
"We were just sitting out here and bylaw officers, two of them, walked up and immediately demanded our IDs. I just questioned why my ID was needed and he said because I was getting a ticket for social distancing. "
"We weren't given any kind of warning. We weren't given any kind of order requiring us to separate. It was just IDs, tickets, now."
Viszmeg says the officers had the three friends stand in front of the bylaw officer's vehicle, despite their concerns over their inability to maintain an appropriate distance between one another, and each received a $1,200 social distancing ticket.
On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Sue Henry of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) said the group was "flagrantly ignoring the social distancing orders" but Viszmeg says that was not the case.
He says he's frustrated by the approach of the officers and would like the ticket thrown out as everyone is adapting to the new rules.
"It's a totally new way to socialize and we don't have that system in place. Giving someone a $1,200 fine off the bat is pretty egregious."
"I' m lucky that I have the situation that I'm in. I have some savings and I don't have a family to support in all this. But there are people out there that do and if they get pinned with a ticket like this, this is detrimental."
The friends plan to fight the tickets.
City of Calgary Bylaw Services has not responded to CTV News' requests for comment on the social distancing tickets.