Edmonton

Public health orders, tickets issued to Albertans defying COVID-19 restrictions

Alberta RCMP received 87 social gathering complaints between Dec. 21 and Dec. 27. No tickets were written but 22 verbal or written warnings were issued. 

Inspectors, police and bylaw officers kept busy enforcing provincial rules

A photo from a December 2020 service at Church in the Vine. (Leonardo Lindstrom/Facebook)

A photo recently posted on Facebook shows parishioners at a west-Edmonton church seated close together at a Christmas season service.

No one appears to be wearing a mask. 

Alberta Health issued a public health order on Tuesday against Pastor Rodney Fortin of Church in the Vine. 

According to the order, inspectors found people on stage singing and playing musical instruments without masks and without being socially distanced. Someone at the door was handing out stickers that read "Church in the Vine – I am mask exempt."

The pastor has been ordered to comply with public health orders. A call to the pastor was not returned. 

In a Dec. 28 Facebook post, Fortin wrote, "The only mass immunization we need is to inoculate the ignorance about COVID."

Edmonton small business owner Susan Baker was also issued a public health order. 

Inspectors noticed there were no COVID-19 signs posted at her shop, Boutique on First, a home decor and fashion store. In response, Baker put up a sign that reads, "No mask, we won't ask."

"Some people are exempt and it's not my business as to why," Baker told CBC News. "So I don't ask if they come in. I don't ask them for any information." 

Boutique on First owner Susan Baker posted this sign after an inspection by Alberta Health. (Jamie McCannel/CBC)

Baker, who works in the store without a mask, said she was granted an exemption by the city. 

"The owner refused to discuss COVID-19 mitigation measures in place at the business," the public health order said, including cleaning and disinfecting and screening staff and customers.

Baker told CBC News she doesn't think the public health orders are legal. 

"We are doing this under common law and they have produced no law," Baker said. "I've done nothing wrong." 

She has been given 24 to 48 hours to comply with the public health orders.

"I think they're bullying and they're trying to make people close their businesses," Baker said. "They're just pushing, pushing, pushing. There is no law. And I'm very upset with the way it's been handled." 

Baker's partner told CBC News he thinks customers enjoy being in the store without masks. 

Complaints, tickets and warnings 

The Alberta Health Services telephone complaint line is taking messages but warns they won't be listened to until January. Callers are instead directed to file online complaints. 

An AHS spokesperson said there were 1,515 complaints filed between Dec. 21 and Dec. 29 about businesses being non-compliant. Of the 326 inspections conducted, one resulted in a referral to police and four resulted in public health orders. 

RCMP were also busy with COVID-19 enforcement during the Christmas season.

Between Dec. 21 and Dec. 27, RCMP received 71 complaints, said Corp. Laurel Scott. Two violation tickets were issued. One was for a person in Grande Prairie who tested positive but refused to isolate and the other was for someone in Fort Vermillion who refused to wear a mask in a store. 

During the same time period, Scott said, RCMP received 87 social gathering complaints. No tickets were written but 22 verbal or written warnings were issued. 

Edmonton police have consistently practiced education as the preferred method of dealing with those who are not in compliance. Between Dec. 20 and Dec. 27, four COVID-related tickets were written, though details were not available because EPS systems are currently being updated. 

When the latest public health orders were put in place by the provincial government in early December, peace officers were given authority to issue tickets.

The City of Edmonton website said bylaw and peace officers were enforcing the mask bylaw. Between Dec. 20 and Dec. 26 they issued 221 warnings and 17 tickets. 

The city's health and safety compliance team also fielded 23 physical distancing and COVID-related complaints between Dec. 21 and Dec. 27.  

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston

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