Edmonton peace officers get authority to issue COVID-19 tickets

Edmonton peace officers now have the authority to hand out $1,000 fines to people violating  Alberta’s COVID-19 public health orders, city managers confirmed Friday. 

Province extends power to municipalities to fine people violating public health orders

Edmonton's municipal peace officers will coordinate with police and health inspectors on enforcing the province's COVID-19 orders. (CBC)

Edmonton peace officers now have the authority to hand out $1,000 fines to people violating Alberta's COVID-19 public health orders, city managers confirmed Friday. 

The city had been waiting for the green light after Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday the province would extend the authority to municipal officers. 

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin told city council's emergency advisory committee just as he received an email confirmation from the Justice and Solicitor General's office. 

"We are going to be more aggressive in our enforcement," Laughlin said. "We're at the point where we need to make sure we're doing everything to reduce this." 

The move comes as COVID-19 cases in the Edmonton zone spike to over 6,000, nearly half the total cases in Alberta and the province imposes new restrictions.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu announced Friday that about 700 peace officers in the province would be given the authority to enforce the province's health orders. 

Previously, only police and Alberta public health inspectors have the authority to fine businesses and people found breaking provincial health orders in the city. 

About 150 peace officers will get training in the next week to be equipped with enforcing the orders and coordinating with police and health inspectors. 

The authority will not be extended to municipal bylaw officers, who have the power to give out fines to people violating the city's face-covering bylaw that's been in effect since Aug. 1.

To date, the city has been trying to educate and raise awareness to encourage the public to follow health measures. 

Laughlin said people will likely notice stronger, quicker actions. 

"Folks will get upset but quite frankly that's what we need to do at this point in time," Laughlin said during a news conference after the meeting. "Folks need to start honouring these measures that are in place."

Public health orders include maintaining two-metre distance from others, no indoor social gatherings, and 25 per cent capacity in retail stores and entertainment venues. 

The city will explore further restrictions under the Municipal Government Act if cases aren't down by Dec. 15, Laughlin added.

Laughlin is also asking people to limit non-essential travel in the city, and shop local

Mayor Don Iveson noted that Edmonton's infection rate is 500 per 100,000 people. 

"In any given group of 200 people passing in and out of any place, one of them is going to have the virus at this point."

Iveson said as the risk compounds, he's hearing health experts and university professors call for stronger measures, "which I would personally support."

22 arenas closed

The city is closing 22 arenas from Dec. 1 to 18. 

Laughlin noted a lack of bookings and the provincial restrictions banning group fitness classes until Dec. 13.

The Downtown Community Arena will remain open under the provincial exemption granted to the IIHF World Junior Championship.

Three city-run senior centres and the St. Francis Xavier Sports Centre will also close.

All indoor events and group activities at City facilities will be cancelled.

Starting Dec. 1 at recreation facilities and the Edmonton Valley Zoo, anyone not wearing a mask will be refused entry, regardless of the individual's exemption status. 

Patrons are still allowed to remove their masks while exercising. 

The perennial favourite Candy Cane Lane will be a drive-thru-only this year. 

Business concerns

Some restaurants have voluntarily closed in-house dining and switched to take out and curb-side pick up because of the risks to staff and patrons, Iveson said.

Because it's their choice to close and not an order in Alberta, they're not eligible for a top-up of the federal rent subsidy, Iveson said. 

"That represents an inequity and a concern for those businesses relative to other parts of the country — where with much lower infection rates than we've seen here, closure orders have come into place." 

Iveson said the city is going to see whether there's anything they can do to support the entrepreneurs who've chosen to close.

Coun. Aaron Paquette said he's worried about businesses not being able to sustain themselves amid dwindling consumer confidence about safety. 

"I'm deeply concerned," Paquette said. "I'm actually horribly concerned that our economy is being driven into the ground and it will take much longer to recover through inaction." 

Paquette said Edmonton isn't generating enough revenue and the municipality needs help from the federal government. 

"I'm just wondering, is there some way that we can move forward, that we can actually help these businesses to shut down, in order to access federal funds?" Paquette asked. 

Laughlin said the city is reviewing the Municipal Government Act to weigh options of "certain industry closure, depending on what's appropriate." 

They haven't had enough time to assess the risks associated with that, Laughlin added.