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Province hoping to crack down on COVID-19 rulebreakers

Last Updated May 5, 2021 at 8:49 pm MDT

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — Following the announcement of additional measures to stem the tide from a third wave of COVID-19 infections in Alberta, additional measures to enforce these rules were announced on Wednesday morning.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu expressed he is also frustrated, as anti-mask protests continue in the face of possible fines or jail time.

“If there are people out there who are thinking of publicly and blatantly violating the rules going forward, there will be consequences,” he warned.

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These consequences include higher fines, with violations of the Public Health Act being doubled to $2,000, and a focus on repeat offenders. To help with the continued demonstrations, Madu said there will now be better collaboration between enforcement agencies in order to assist with more complex investigations.

“By sharing information and discussing enforcement actions this way, on top of doubling the fines, the public health orders will be enforced more effectively and consistently than before.”

Businesses that are being found repeatedly violating the restrictions will be targeted as well with the additional measures, with Madu and Premier Jason Kenney saying more business licenses could be revoked as a result.

Details on the Alberta government’s website add that partners in this group of agencies include Alberta Health Services, Occupational Health and Safety, Alberta Prosecution Service and local police services. The Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission may also be involved in certain investigations that involve businesses in its jurisdiction.

The response from law enforcement has long been criticized in Alberta, as protests continue to grow and many of the same people seem emboldened to defy the rules.

A statement from the justice minister’s office from this week said there have been 576 tickets filed under the Public Health Act between Mar. 1, 2020 and Mar. 31, 2021. Out of those, 40 per cent had since been withdrawn. Only 12 per cent of tickets have resulted in convictions or fines paid, while 38 per cent remain before the courts. The final ten per cent were “quashed or otherwise resolved by the court.

Madu said he will look into the amount of tickets being withdrawn to understand why those decisions were made.

This past weekend, a rodeo held near the town of Bowden mystified some people, left wondering why police did nothing to proactively stop it before it could get underway.

More questions on the event were asked on Wednesday, and Madu said police watched the event closely as they will continue the investigation and identify more people responsible for it going ahead.

“At the end of the day, the laws are there. The tools are there. The resources are there. And we must trust the judgement of those in law enforcement and in Alberta Health Services to whom we have entrusted with the responsibility to enforce and ensure compliance,” he said.

Kenney added that there was a lot of action taken ahead of time to investigate the event and RCMP approached several organizations who assured them that they would not take part.

The premier said that in meetings held with the justice minister, the RCMP informed them that they could have responded more effectively if these protocols were in place.

“Particularly to focus on serious, repeat offenders of the public health measures. We have brought to the attention all of those agencies certain powers that already exist in the law that they can use in situations like last weekend’s event,” Kenney said.

READ MORE: Alberta identifies 2,272 new COVID-19 cases, two additional B.1.617 variant cases reported

Police in cities like Calgary meanwhile have said they feel handcuffed with the abilities they have at the moment, torn between the freedom of expression granted in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the need to enforce public health measures during a deadly pandemic.

Allegations were raised in Calgary that police were being told to stop issuing as many tickets because it was overloading the court system. Madu and Kenney said this type of direction would not have come from the government.

“Quite frankly, I have no idea where that is coming from,” the Minister of Justice said. “I do not, on a day-to-day basis direct how law enforcement is to do their work. Neither do I direct the Crown Prosecution Service on how to prosecute.”

“If that direction has come to police, it’s quite possible it came from Crown prosecutors who don’t consult with, nor should they consult with, the department or the minister,” added Kenney. “(Prosecutors) are ultimately in charge of the case load and assessing the chance of a successful prosecution.”

But also in a statement provided to 660 NEWS, a spokesperson for the justice minister’s office said the Crown has not made any requests to any police service or other law enforcement agencies to stop issuing violation tickets.

The premier said they are also hoping to hire more people into the Crown Prosecution Service to assist with any backlogs, and will consider hiring private law firms as well.

Madu said he trusts police, and is ready to provide any more help to ensure they have the necessary resources.

“I have been clear from day one, that it is my expectation that law enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service would deploy all the tools available to them to ensure that the public health orders are enforced,” Madu said. “Enforcement will be done, and Albertans will see it being done.”