17 people apprehended by police for defying COVID isolation orders since pandemic began

Edmonton police have apprehended 17 people for defying quarantine or isolation orders since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Under the health act, those failing to quarantine can be detained

Potentially infectious people who defy health orders to isolate can be apprehended by police and transported to health facilities. (David Jackson/Reuters)

Edmonton police have apprehended 17 people for defying quarantine or isolation orders since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March. 

The first apprehension was made on Sept. 28, police spokesperson Scott Pattison said Tuesday in an email to CBC News.

"That was just the first day we can recall being asked to facilitate a Section 39," Pattision said. "The individuals involved are typically already in the ambulance by the time EPS arrives."  

Police are using certificates issued by Alberta Health Services to detain people, relying on enforcement powers provided under Alberta's Public Health Act. 

Under Section 39 of the act, the province can direct police to detain potentially infectious people who refuse to co-operate with health orders and transport them to a specified quarantine facility, such as a hospital. 

The law can also be used to compel infectious people to submit to medical testing and treatment, and to ensure they comply with any conditions "prescribed by a physician as being necessary to mitigate the disease or limit its spread to others." 

About 70 apprehension certificates have been issued across the province since the pandemic began, said Alberta Health Services spokesperson Kerry Wiliamson. 

The orders, considered a last resort, are used "very infrequently," Wiliamson said in an email Tuesday. 

"Similar to how patients with infectious tuberculosis are managed when they are not following isolation requirements, these patients are kept in hospital until they are no longer a risk to others. This includes COVID-19 positive cases as well as close contacts." 

Williamson said all apprehension orders to date have been for people who are homeless or have addictions or mental health problems. In each case, the person refused to isolate, even when a hotel room was offered, he said. 

Police are not always involved, Williams said. 

"An example would be when a patient is already at the hospital waiting for results and threatening to leave and refusing to isolate or quarantine. In this case, a Section 39 certificate is issued to keep the patient in hospital pending test results without the involvement of police services." 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, has asked police across the province to help enforce COVID-19 restrictions. 

Last week, as new measures were put in place for gatherings and businesses, Hinshaw wrote a letter to police agencies across the province, asking them to enforce the new rules. 

While Alberta police have the authority to fine those who break the rules, policing have continued to focus on education over enforcement during the pandemic. For instance, Edmonton police only issued 19 tickets during the first four months under pandemic restrictions.