The mayor of Alberta’s largest city says he’s frustrated to hear tickets given to people for breaching COVID-19 public health orders are being thrown out in the courts.
“I think it’s handcuffing the police and their work and we need to do much, much better,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday.
“I’m calling on the court system to take this as seriously as the police do.”
Large groups without masks have regularly been gathering in Calgary public spaces and in violation of group limits in protest of health measures.
Nenshi said people must understand the rules aren’t just guidelines.
He acknowledged Premier Jason Kenney has in recent days given conflicting messages on restrictions.
Kenney said last week that new laws weren’t necessary, but days later, calling them critical to bending the curve, instituted new regulations in so-called COVID-19 hot spots.
“Even though the premier sometimes doesn’t sound firm on this, this is actually the law,” Nenshi said.
“And it’s important that everyone follow the law because we live in a democratic society.”
On the weekend, hundreds attended a maskless “No More Lockdowns” rodeo in Bowden in central Alberta in direct violation of public health rules.
Kenney tweeted his disappointment with their actions, but has stressed repeatedly that politicians should not direct police on charges.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley agreed such a legal firewall should be respected but said there is more Kenney’s United Conservative government can do to set a tone that the rule of law must be followed and enforced.
She urged Solicitor General Kaycee Madu to issue a guideline to police services to consistently and vigorously enforce public health rules.
“It is within the scope of authority of the solicitor general to issue this kind of guideline,” said Notley.
“The complaints that somehow they (the government) have nothing to do with it aren’t true. They just need to be consistent and public and transparent.”
Two front-line emergency room doctors criticized the response to the Bowden rodeo. They noted it had been advertised in advance, but authorities still did nothing to stop it.
“It felt like a gut punch. There were thousands of people shoulder to shoulder, with no masks on, pretending like everything’s OK,” said Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency physician in Edmonton.
“They came from all different parts of the province. It’s going to have a broad, sweeping effect across the province potentially.”
Calgary emergency department doctor Joe Vipond added: “This (lack of enforcement) was allowed to happen at the highest levels. Why else would our enforcement officials, the RCMP, have not tried to prevent this grotesque flouting of our public health rules.”
Alberta Health Services said in a statement that inspectors spoke with organizers before the event to notify them about public health orders, and also sent a letter indicating the event would be illegal if it were to proceed.
“It is disappointing that the organizers ignored this information and went ahead with their event, knowing it was a clear breach of the current public health restrictions,” said the agency, which added it’s “extremely concerning” people would knowingly put others at risk.
“AHS is considering our legal options in regards to the organizers of this event.”
The RCMP did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
Alberta has close to 23,000 active COVID-19 cases and has the highest rate of infection in Canada. As of Sunday, Alberta had a seven-day rate of 296 cases per 100,000 people, with Ontario the next highest at 170.
There were 648 people in hospital, including 155 in intensive care — the highest number in ICU since the pandemic began. Physicians were briefed last week on the triage protocol should it get to the point the system becomes so overwhelmed doctors must decide who gets care and who doesn’t.
Kenney’s government has suspended the legislature sitting for at least the next two weeks. It says it wants to keep politicians and staff safe from COVID-19.
Notley has criticized Kenney for doing so while at the same time allowing schoolchildren and teachers to work in class and putting retail and restaurant workers at risk on the front lines.
— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press