Beaverlodge Peace Officer Mark Morrical can issue tickets to enforce COVID restrictions but so far hasn’t written any. (Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
By Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Town & Country News
BEAVERLODGE – With various public health measures in place during COVID-19’s second wave, community officers and RCMP are reporting their efforts are focusing on education, not fines.
“Although we have the authority to charge, we strive to educate the public,” said Ash Browne, Beaverlodge RCMP detachment commander.
“We have the authority to issue tickets, including (for) failure to self-isolate, mass gathering non-compliance, failure to social distance (and) business-related non-compliance.”
According to the Alberta government, violation of mandatory restrictions can result in $1,000 fines per offence, and courts can order fines of up to $100,000.
With many wondering which agencies have the jurisdiction to issue COVID-related fines, Alberta Justice states that in addition to police and peace officers, fish and wildlife officers can also write tickets.
Breaching Alberta Health Services (AHS) guidelines could cost you.
On top of a $1,000 fine, Browne notes there is a 20 per cent victim surcharge, which is a provincial fee tagged for victim services and public safety initiatives.
With it, the hit for a single ticket inches up $1,200.
That surcharge is added to every fine, he added.
So far, Beaverlodge RCMP haven’t issued a fine and Browne said there has been one COVID-related complaint, in Beaverlodge.
Two weeks ago, there was a complaint made in Wembley and another in Horse Lake First Nation.
If a ticket is deemed necessary for an indoor gathering, likely only one would be issued for the homeowner.
Although every adult in attendance could technically be issued one, that would be “enforcement-overkill” said Browne.
Enforcement isn’t totally reactive to complaints, as officers patrol and keep an eye on public spaces, he said.
Bylaw officers were authorized to enforce public health orders in the spring.
This authority was removed June 15 before being restored by the Alberta government Nov. 24, according to Stu Rempel, County of Grande Prairie Regional Enforcement Services manager.
“We have not written any charges to date,” Rempel said.
“We know that it is a stressful and difficult time and we have relied upon strong officer discretion in promoting education and compliance.”
Rempel said he was unable to release any details on the number of complaints, or where they originated.
Likewise, Beaverlodge peace officer Mark Morrical hasn’t written a COVID ticket yet.
During the first lockdown Morrical said he had approximately a half dozen conversations with residents about following guidelines and there had been about 14 complaints about non-compliance.
He hasn’t received any complaints during the current wave, he added.
Though he is employed by the Town of Beaverlodge, Morrical said revenue from tickets issued for non-compliance go to the Alberta government, compared to bylaw offences where the town gets a portion or all of the revenue.
Generally, enforcement is complaint-based and he’s not monitoring businesses or public spaces, he said.
AHS public health inspectors are also able to respond to complaints about businesses and failure to enforce protocols like physical distancing, said Shelly Willsey, AHS North Zone communications director.
Complaints can be submitted to ephisahs.albertahealthservices.ca/ create-case and the inspector will play an educational or advisory role to begin with, Willsey said.
Willsey said as of Dec. 10 there have been 3,144 complaints throughout the North Zone regarding businesses and COVID protocol.
There is no available geographical breakdown for the North Zone, and Willsey said AHS inspectors have given no enforcement orders.
In Edmonton, city officials told CTV News 393 warnings and 38 tickets were issued over last weekend for COVID-19 enforcement. None were issued in St. Albert and Strathcona County, which are also in the Edmonton Zone.