Alberta's plan to expand authority for health order enforcement still unclear

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he was considering giving authority to provincial peace officers to impose fines for anyone violating public health orders. Edmonton's mayor is waiting for specifics.

Provincial government may allow another 600 officers to write $1,000 tickets

Edmonton peace officers currently do not have the authority to issue fines for those who violate public health orders. (CBC)

There are still many unanswered questions about how the new Alberta COVID-19 public health orders will be enforced and who will be allowed to enforce them.

On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said the province plans to expand the number of officers who will be given that power. 

"We'll make a final decision later this week, but likely will include level one and level two peace officers," Kenney said.  "And, of course, police are empowered already to enforce those orders. They will be able to write tickets for fines of up to a thousand dollars per individual who's violating these rules against indoor social activities."

In late March, the Alberta government issued a special order giving municipal peace officers the power to fine people who did not isolate or observe physical distancing. But when the province cancelled the public health emergency, those powers were rescinded.

At this point, Edmonton peace and bylaw officers only have the power to enforce the mandatory mask bylaw. The Edmonton Police Service and Alberta Health inspectors currently have the ability to issue fines, tickets and warnings if someone is violating any public health order. 

According to numbers provided by Alberta Health Services, there has been a lot to investigate. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the Environmental Public Health department has received 14,123 COVID-19 related complaints in the Edmonton Zone. 

Acting city manager Adam Laughlin said the City of Edmonton is eager to help with enforcement. 

Acting city manager Adam Laughlin is waiting for the province to provide specifics on granting additional municipal peace officer enforcement powers. (City of Edmonton/YouTube)

"We can still enforce our face-covering bylaw with our peace officers, but hopefully if the province supports providing our peace officers some enforcement power, we'll be permitted to enforce further," Laughlin said. "This is something we'll be sharing with the Emergency Advisory Committee on Friday. I think we're at the point where enforcement needs to be firmer and we'll be taking those steps."

Late Wednesday afternoon, Alberta Justice spokesperson Carla Jones confirmed the department is working on finalizing details "with the focus in general on increasing the number of peace officers who can levy these fines."

Jones said giving authority to "certain community peace officers" could mean another 600 officers who are able to impose fines.  

"At this time, the provincial government will not be granting extra authorities to municipal bylaw enforcement officers," Jones added. "However, [they] may assist police and peace officers in detecting and reporting non-compliance of public health orders within their respective communities.

Jones did not explain why the added authority would not be extended to municipal bylaw officers. 

Education and compassion

Edmonton's mayor said municipal officers will continue to focus on education and compassion.

"We always ask nicely first and sort of try to provide people information and give them context," Don Iveson said. 

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,000 mask warnings have been issued in Edmonton, but only four tickets have been written. 

"I think we're getting to a point here where we need to be firmer in our approach as it relates to enforcement," Laughlin said. "It will still absolutely come with compassion and education, but if it's a group or individual blatantly not following health restrictions, I think we're going to be firmer in our enforcement."