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Calgary will take further COVID-19 action if the province doesn’t: Mayor Nenshi

Calgary’s mayor said the city will take the COVID-19 matter into its own hands if the province won’t take further action as case counts stay near record highs.

It could also mean a stiffer fine as the city reviews its own mask bylaw.

The province reported 1,735 cases Monday, with 609 Albertans in hospital, 108 of those in intensive care. There are now 631 Albertans dead due to COVID-19.  

“I will be blunt – so far we are not bending the curve back down,” said Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“I am concerned – more than ever before – about the spread of the virus.”

There are 7,472 active COVID-19 cases in the Calgary zone.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters Monday something he’s said all along – he doesn’t want a jurisdictional battle. They want to work hand-in-hand with the province on COVID-19 response, he said. He believes their priorities are aligned.

“If we are not (aligned), then my number one duty as mayor is to protect the health of the citizens of Calgary who put their trust in me,” he said.

He said despite the jurisdiction issues, they’ll respond if needed.

“I won’t hesitate to take further action to protect the citizens of Calgary if the province does not,” he said Monday afternoon.

“But I’m giving them the chance to do the right thing.”

The mayor said they have broad powers when it comes to legislating when protecting of health and welfare of citizens. Those powers are rarely used, he said.

“It would be very shocking to me, given where the numbers are right now, that the province would say, ‘actually we don’t need to keep people safe,” Mayor Nenshi said.

Changes to the mask bylaw could be coming

Earlier in the day, during council’s strategic meeting, Coun. Druh Farrell brought up the weekend rally in the downtown where the participants weren’t masked.

“I have been getting reports from some of the businesses and some of these residents who live in the area that the participants of these protests are going into shops… in order to intimidate customers, as well as staff,” she said.

“And this is happening, frequently.”

She asked about enforcement and whether the city could limit the protests – or at least limit the “damage that they caused.”

Mayor Nenshi said that he was heartened to hear from Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld that they would be looking at further enforcement.

Generally, mask compliance has been good – somewhere around 90 per cent, the mayor said.

“With the exception of some people who are really on the crazy fringe,” he said.

The current city mask bylaw isn’t in line with the provincial public health order, the mayor said. They’re reviewing it and could come back with fines in the same arena – $1,000 for the ticket and a $200 victim fee.

Right now a city mask fine runs about $50.

They’ll be looking at providing more flexibility in ticketing for those who flagrantly ignore the bylaw.

Peace officers granted enforcement powers

Late Monday, the city issued a statement saying that their level 2 peace officers would now be allowed to ticket for public health breaches.

“This change means there are now more than 100 peace officers working alongside Calgary Police Service to support the City’s pandemic response in situations where individuals are in blatant violation of the Public Health Act and bylaws,” said Ryan Pleckaitis, Chief Bylaw Officer, Calgary Community Standards.

If the province chooses not to take further action, the mayor said an emergency meeting of council could be called for Wednesday.