Edmonton

'This will be a real test to our community,' interim city manager says going into Easter weekend

Easter weekend will be a test to see how well the people of Edmonton follow physical distancing restrictions and orders issued in the past few weeks. 

Park closures possible if Edmontonians can't follow rules, Adam Laughlin says

Mayor Don Iveson and Coun. Tony Caterina attend emergency advisory committee in person with other councillors participating by video. (Natasha Riebe/City of Edmonton)

Easter weekend will be a test to see how well the people of Edmonton follow physical distancing restrictions and orders issued in the past few weeks. 

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin warned Thursday that the city could take more stringent steps to ensure people are following the province's public health orders to curb COVID-19. 

"We will issue tickets," Laughlin said at a news conference at city hall. "I'll be honest, this will be a real test to our community."

Under provincial legislation, peace officers and police are authorized to issue $1,000 fines to people and $100,000 to $500,000 fines to businesses and organizations found defying the orders. 

Starting Friday, Laughlin said, peace officers will monitor parking lots at popular city parks.

He said if people aren't following physical distancing rules, the city will start by closing parking lots to see how people respond. 

If people still aren't complying, they will take the step to close the parks, he said. 

"With the situation we're in, we absolutely don't want to do that," Laughlin said. "But quite frankly, if it comes to public health or inconvenience we're going to decide based on public health."

He reminded people that playgrounds and fenced dog parks remain closed.

"All remaining parks will require your dogs to be on leash at all times."

He acknowledged that many people are unhappy about the decision but said it's necessary to discourage mass gatherings at dog parks.

"As a dog owner, I do get this," he said

Mayor Don Iveson said the measures are intended to protect Edmontonians and preserve the health-care system.

As opposed to closing parks outright, Iveson said the step to require dogs on leash is reasonable. 

Transit steps

The city is also bolstering efforts to curb incidents of partying and to improve sanitation on public transit. 

Edmonton Transit Service drivers started reporting more lawless behaviour at the beginning of the month. The city has designated a shuttle to take homeless people from downtown to shelters at EXPO Centre and the Kinsmen Centre. 

All LRT riders have to get off the Capital Line at Century Park and at NAIT at the end of the Metro Line to allow for thorough cleaning.

Laughlin said peace officers will make sure everyone disembarks at the end of the lines. He urged people to only take a bus or LRT if it's essential travel. 

Earlier, at a now-weekly emergency advisory committee meeting, city councillors voiced concerns to administrators about how the city is dealing with the pandemic.

Questions ranged from what the city is doing to improve safety on transit to what it's doing to help festivals faced with cancelling their events this year.

Several councillors questioned the city's decision to order people to keep their dogs on leashes in parks, after getting complaints from constituents. 

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said her constituents told her that without a flexible leash, their dogs could pull them within two metres of other individuals.

"Some people felt that that put them more at risk," Hamilton said. 

Coun. Tony Caterina said the city isn't acting fast enough to enforce orders, grilling Laughlin on the timeliness of the city's orders and urging him to order stricter measures regardless of public displeasure.

"I would expect you to make the timely decisions," Caterina said to Laughlin, adding that most people are being responsible and following the rules. 

"Unfortunately there's a certain percentage of population, who under no circumstances, are going to comply, regardless of what it is," Caterina said.

"And if those are the people that you're pissing off, I don't care."

Unfortunately there's a certain percentage of population, who under no circumstances, are going to comply, regardless of what it is.- Coun. Tony Caterina

Laughlin said he and his staff are working on what the new normal will look like for the city. 

Edmonton council first declared the state of local emergency on March 20, three days after the Alberta government announced a state of public health emergency. 

The city's declaration gives it extraordinary powers to impose orders on the public related to COVID-19 public health orders.

@natashariebe

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