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Rink or rally? Questions over Calgary police COVID-19 enforcement

Citizens are asking why Calgary police didn’t ticket hundreds gathered at Olympic Plaza in an apparent anti-mask rally Saturday.

Yet, outdoor game of hockey was broken up earlier in the week after new public orders came down.

Four days prior to the rally, the Calgary Police Service responded to a call from a community member in Renfrew. It was regarding a group of people playing hockey at an outdoor rink. No one was ticketed.

Hours earlier, the province enacted public health rules limiting outdoor gatherings to 10 people.

“To be fair to CPS, they do have to respond to a certain degree when there’s concerns brought forward,” said David Barrett, the president of the Renfrew Community Association, where the rink is located.

He said the complaint call came in hours after the new rules were announced. CPS may not have had the time to prepare or understand how to enforce things properly, Barrett said.

But days later, CPS were at an anti-mask demonstration outside of city hall and didn’t intervene.

“I’m saddened that there was a lack of action by Calgary police in that situation,” said Barrett.

“Especially once they had the time to prepare.”

A handful of tickets

CPS Supt. Ryan Ayliffe said he doesn’t want people to see the lack action on Saturday as a lack of enforcement.

“It must be noted that due to safety concerns for both law enforcement and members of the community, it’s not always prudent to issue a ticket at the time of an alleged offence,” he said Monday afternoon at a Calgary COVID-19 update.

Supt. Ayliffe said that tickets are often issued hours or days after the infraction based on evidence obtained at the time.

He said officers were there collecting body worn camera evidence and taking notes.

“Please don’t take the perceived appearance of lack of enforcement as a reflection of our intent to ticket those who flout the law,” he said.

When asked how many tickets would be handed out, Supt. Ayliffe couldn’t provide a specific number. He said evidence was being collated Monday.

“So, a handful of ticket would be the answer.”

A promise of enforcement

On Friday (Nov. 27) Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu gave authority for 700 peace officers to enforce new public health orders.

Currently, enforcing public health legisation is handled by police, public health inspectors, and level 1 peace officers.

But to reflect the current health risk, Madu said the government is temporarily increasing the number of peace officers who can issue fines against rule breakers.

“People need to be responsible for their own actions by treating the pandemic as serious, and so too will be the consequences for not following the rules,” he said.

Despite the order, Minister Madu’s office told LiveWire Calgary that municipal law enforcement operates independently.

“Elected officials do not direct specific, on-the-ground operational decisions of police officers. The provincial government respects the operational enforcement decision-making of Calgary Police Service, while balancing the Charter right to free expression and assembly,” wrote Blaise Boehmer, press secretary to the Minister of Justice.

Mayor Nenshi also expressed confidence in the CPS’ ability to do the right thing.

“The good news is the people who have the enforcement powers know what they’re doing,” he said at a city COVID-19 update on Friday.

Moving forward with ticketing

Officials reiterated that their priority has shifted from education to enforcement.

“It’s been eight months that we’ve been educating Albertans on the benefits of face coverings, and social distancing,” said outgoing Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson.

“We need to start a more stringent enforcement program.”

Supt. Ayliffe said that they’ve already redeployed school resource officers – off due to junior and senior high students learning online.

“These officers will enhance our response to COVID-19 enforcement,” he said.

According to Calgary’s Chief Bylaw Officer Ryan Pleckaitis said they expect a decision later this week on the province allowing an additional 30 officers to enfore public orders.

“Having our entire peace officer program being able to support the city’s pandemic response will be welcomed by our partners and welcomed by us as well,” he said.