Who’s responsible for enforcing COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta?

Although more vaccines are now rolling out across Alberta, there have continued to be instances of those defying COVID-19 public health orders.

The question of who is responsible for enforcing the rules has been asked by many Albertans, who continue to mask-up, keep their distance and take precautions.

From restaurants opening before they were allowed, to weekend protests, to the ongoing issues at GraceLife Church — enforcement has been muddled.

Click to play video 'Despite pastor behind bars, members of GraceLife Church near Edmonton continue to defy COVID-19 rules' Despite pastor behind bars, members of GraceLife Church near Edmonton continue to defy COVID-19 rules

Despite pastor behind bars, members of GraceLife Church near Edmonton continue to defy COVID-19 rules

When asked about whose job it is to enforce the health regulations, Premier Jason Kenney has said, “it’s not appropriate for elected people to direct operational details of law enforcement agencies there on the ground dealing with these circumstances.”

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“We trust their judgement and how best to enforce the public health orders,” Kenney said.

And Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has similarly distanced herself from enforcement.

“That’s not something that I interfere with, but it is up to [authorities] to escalate to enforcement when that initial step of support and education does not work,” she said.

Read more: COVID-19: Easing Alberta’s public health restrictions could diminish public trust, compliance

Although its pastor is now behind bars, GraceLife Church remains open, and no parishioners have been fined.

When Global News asked AHS why, spokesperson Kerry Williamson said: “Regarding GraceLife Church, it’s best to speak with RCMP. AHS continues to work within the legislation and cooperatively with the RCMP.”

Meanwhile, a statement from RCMP read: “The investigation continues into this situation with the intention of determining, through consultation with AHS, the next course of action for the RCMP.”

The answer of who is ultimately responsible is not clear.

“It’s problematic when the enforcement activities become a blame game between different public officials,” explained Lorian Hardcastle, associate professor of law at the University of Calgary.

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Read more: How Canadian Charter rights are playing into Alberta pastor’s fight against COVID-19 charges

The premier is supposed to be at arms length from law enforcement, explained Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University.

“But unfortunately, the way that it’s worded makes it sound like the premier doesn’t want to take responsibility for the rules that he himself has created, and I think that needs to be clarified,” Williams said.

READ MORE: AHS drops case, pays legal fees of Alberta café that reopened in spite of COVID-19 rules

From a legal perspective, Hardcastle noted the RCMP and AHS do have authority here.

“Certainly, legislation empowers law enforcement to take action against GraceLife Church, public health officials certainly have tools at their disposal, and so it’s unfortunate when people are waiting on others to act,” she said.

She said in the case of GraceLife Church, the weeks of defiance have gone on long enough.

“I think at this point, efforts on all parts need to be ramped up — by law enforcement, but [also] public health,” Hardcastle said.

“This can’t be allowed to continue. They’ve actually prompted other congregations to join in and to defy public health orders in the same way.”

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