Police issue few fines despite thousands of COVID-19 complaints in Alberta

Police and RCMP in Alberta have given out 40 tickets in the past four months for COVID-related public health order violations despite more than 5,000 complaints made in the same time span. 

Edmonton police issued 19 tickets in four months

A pedestrian wearing a mask walks down the empty streets of downtown Edmonton. (The Canadian Press)

Despite thousands of complaints of people not following COVID-19 restrictions, RCMP and Edmonton police have only handed out 39 tickets since the spring.

Alberta Health Services said it received 5,100 reports of a "concern about a business or public place that is not following restrictions," between May 23 and Sept. 22. 

Kerry Williamson, AHS spokesperson, said concerns are related to COVID-19 public health orders, including the two-metre physical distancing requirement and self-isolation. 

RCMP Cpl. Deanna Fontaine, a media relations officer, said officers issued 20 tickets for violations under the Alberta Public Health Act or the Federal Quarantine Act between mid-May and the end of September.

Those fines were related to U.S. travellers contravening border control orders; residents not complying with foreign travel quarantine orders and others not adhering to physical distancing requirements.

The tickets were handed out in Banff, Lake Louise, Waterton, Two Hills, Fort McMurray, Milk River, Bassano, Leduc and Cardston.

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Edmonton police issued 19 tickets over the past four months, including 14 tickets between May 14 and June 12, police spokesperson Carolin Maran said. 

"These tickets were issued for failing to adhere to physical distancing," Maran said in an email. 

Edmonton police did not give out any more tickets in July and August, she added. 

In the past two weeks, Edmonton police issued five more COVID-related tickets but did not provide the specific reason. EPS spokesperson Scott Pattison said along with the City of Edmonton, police are focused on education and awareness to encourage people to comply with the rules.

Tickets for failing to adhere to a public health order are $1,000 to $1,200, Pattison noted.

Williamson said AHS works with business/landlords first to ensure they're following orders. 

They can also issue a closure order.

That happened a handful of times in the early days of the pandemic when some gyms — ordered to close — remained open. 

Of the 45 COVID-19 related orders issued in the spring, 36 of those have been rescinded, AHS said. 

Health orders being followed downtown

In Edmonton's main shopping and dining districts, several people said restaurants and bars were doing a good job of ensuring physical distancing measures are followed. 

Doug Greenwood, who lives in the 104th Street area downtown, said he feels it's important to support local businesses and get the economy back on track.  

"Restaurants have been fantastic at implementing it and I think the guidance has been very clear," Greenwood said in an interview last week.

Doug Greenwood lives in downtown Edmonton. He said local businesses have done a good job at following the COVID-19 health guidance. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Greenwood carries a mask with him and wears it when appropriate. He said following health guidance is the best way to stop the spread of the virus. 

"Whatever gets this over, I will happily do," he said. "You tell me what I need to do to make this end and I'll just do exactly that thing so I can have my life back." 

Melissa Johnson, who works downtown, said she's observed good practices as well. 

"I think the precautions are being taken,"Johnson told CBC News. "Everyone's wearing a mask, taking it off when you're seated." 

Johnson said she thinks police should ticket if they find businesses or other organizations violating the public health orders.

Situational awareness 

As winter approaches, businesses and organizations planning to have gatherings should take a fresh look at how they're set up to manage physical distancing requirements.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of Alberta, said she's noticed a varying degree of compliance to public health orders. 

"I think it's very easy for people to kind of fall into old patterns in a familiar environment without necessarily being mindful of those distances," Saxinger said. 

"It's almost like it's a permissive environment for people to pretend that we're not in a pandemic anymore and that could be a concern." 

Saxinger suggested offices, stores, gyms and restaurants hit reset and refresh their surroundings. 

"Arranging the space, changing the physical environment and visual cues for distancing are all things that probably could be brushed up at this point, I think it's becoming more important."