The Alberta government has introduced new measures to try and stop people from breaking public health orders as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the province.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said Wednesday fines for defying public health orders will double to $2,000 and introduced what he called a new enforcement protocol to target people not complying with orders.
It will allow Alberta Health Services, Occupational Health and Safety, local police and other agencies to have a coordinated response to deal with repeat offenders.
Madu said the province is introducing new measures to try and stop “a small few who refuse to comply.”
“By sharing information and discussing the enforcement actions this way, on top of doubling the fines, public health orders will be enforced more effectively and consistently than before,” Madu said.
The comments come the same day the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., was shut down after defying health orders for months and just days after a rodeo in Bowden, Alta., hosted hundreds of people, most without masks and not physically distancing.
Tools for enforcement
The premier and province’s justice minister said Wednesday they’ll continue to leave the enforcement of public health orders up to police and other agencies.
“We, as elected folks, cannot direct operational decisions on individual cases by police or law enforcement agencies,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
“We don’t do that in a democratic society. What we do is to create policy and give enforcement agencies the tools.”
On Monday, Calgary’s police Chief Mark Neufeld said the province had previously asked police not to fill the courts with tickets related to COVID-19 offences. Neufeld welcomed the protocol change announced Wednesday.
“It will ensure stronger collaboration and more efficient use of the existing powers each agency has available to focus on repeat offenders – individuals, groups and businesses,” he said in an emailed statement.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there are more than 25 active work and closure orders in effect for businesses in the province that have not followed public health orders related to COVID-19, according to AHS’ website.
On the list, the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, which was “physically closed” by health inspectors Wednesday morning.
For at least five months, the business operated in defiance of public health orders intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.
An anti-restrictions protest was scheduled for this weekend at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
When asked about the upcoming event, Madu said he’s confident the new protocol in place will elicit a “more proactive response to incidents.”
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Wednesday the protocol announced by the province isn’t enough.
“The fact that there is a protocol to tell them to talk to each other is not new. It’s a policy dressed up to look like action, but it’s not significant,” she said.
“And that’s why we’re calling on them to do more.”
Some doctors in the province have said that health-care workers are frustrated with the large anti-lockdown protests in Alberta.
“We’re doing everything we can to save every life we can … anybody and everyone, irrespective of their beliefs, but that’s just adding to the burden,” said Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, an internist at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary, and an assistant professor at the University of Calgary, on The Current Wednesday.
“When everyone’s working as hard as they are, it’s a bit of a slap in the face.”