Confusion, concern over enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions

EDMONTON — After a weekend of protests across Alberta, many are wondering why more isn’t being done to enforce new provincial-wide restrictions that limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people or less.

A crowd of about 150 people gathered on Saturday near the legislature grounds to protest against masks and restrictions. Provincial sheriffs watched from the perimeter, but no tickets were issued.

Similar events happened in both Red Deer and Calgary, and it appears no tickets were handed out at any of those events either.

The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health addressed the concerns at her daily update on Monday.

“It’s important to remember that there is a democratic right to express concerns,” she said.

“We have issued guidance with respect to rallies and demonstrations that includes measures for how individuals who are wanting to express their opinions can keep themselves and others safe.

“The guidance for rallies and demonstrations was put together with the intent of balancing the rights of expression with the need to be watching out for our communities.”

Alberta’s attorney general and justice minister also addressed the situation on Monday, saying his office knew about the lack of tickets, but it was not his call.

“The minister of justice does not direct law enforcement to issue tickets,” said Minister Kaycee Madu.

Emails from CTV News Edmonton to the Chief Alberta Sheriff went unanswered.

Madu is urging Albertans to stay away from large gatherings, but he says protestors are also protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“People still have rights and I am not going to be that minister of justice or solicitor general. Because I want to issue a ticket, I am going to create more problems.”

The official opposition disagrees with his position.

“I think he’s wrong,” said NDP leader Rachel Notley. “The laws are not unconstitutional. It’s an idiotic statement.”

Notley says she is deeply concerned that Madu may be saying his own laws are not enforceable.

“The problem is, he’s the attorney general, and he’s gone on to create profound confusion about the applicability of the laws in question.”

The City of Edmonton said up to 160 peace officers need to undergo training before they’ll be ready to handle enforcement of the new restrictions.

City officials confirmed that anyone who isn’t complying with new restrictions in public spaces or worship centres could be issued warnings or tickets as early as Tuesday.

The city said only police and Alberta Health Services will address social gathering complaints at private dwellings.

Meanwhile, the Edmonton Police Service issued a news release over the weekend asking residents not to call 911 over COVID-19 compliance complaints, and instead asking for complaints to be reported online to the city, or to the province.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s David Ewasuk.

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