Manitoba

How do you report COVID-19 rule breakers without causing a fight? Two experts weigh in

To snitch or not to snitch? During a global pandemic that has necessitated various strict rules around gatherings and social interaction to keep people safe, that may be a very difficult question. 

Have a conversation first, and approach reporting with caution, experts say

Since Manitoba started enforcing COVID-19 orders last spring, the province's COVID-19 tip line number and enforcement agencies have received more than 165,000 calls about rule breakers. (Aaron Amat/Shutterstock)

To snitch or not to snitch? During a global pandemic that has necessitated various strict rules around gatherings and social interaction to keep people safe, that may be a very difficult question. 

Maybe you've noticed several cars parked in front of your neighbour's home. 

Or you've seen someone coming and going from the home you hadn't seen before. 

Maybe you've heard voices you didn't recognize and music blasting from the apartment next door. 

All while knowing the province has banned any type of gatherings due to COVID-19. 

So what do you do? 

Since the province started enforcing COVID-19 orders last spring, the province's COVID-19 tip line number and enforcement agencies have received more than 165,000 calls about rule breakers. 

The province has encouraged Manitobans to report infractions in order to help them enforce COVID-19 public health orders to keep people safe and prevent the spread of the virus.

But it could be seen as "snitching," which always runs the risk of creating tension with whomever you're reporting. 

So how do you strike a balance between being a good neighbour and being a good citizen?

Neil McArthur, an ethicist and professor of philosophy at the University of Manitoba, says the tip lines can do good in protecting the community, if used cautiously.  

"On the one hand, snitching sounds bad, but it's really just us watching out and making sure that everyone's following the rules that we're keeping each other safe," he said. 

"But it also is going to create tensions. And if you use it indiscriminately, then it's going to lead to real divisions, I think, so it's not going to bring us together. 

That's why McArthur said it's important to do your research and find out exactly what is going on before reporting someone to a tip line or the police. 

"It may just be if you see … you know, a car in your neighbour's driveway that you don't recognize, that may just be someone bringing them groceries, doing a mental health check. They may have a friend who lives alone who's entitled to come to come and see them," he said. 

Before calling a tip line, it might be best to simply have a conversation with your neighbour first, he said. 

How to approach neighbours about breaking the rules 

In order to be successful at having those tough conversations, Nancy Kosik, an etiquette and protocol expert, recommends being assertive and informed, but not confrontational. 

Even things like body language and the tone of your voice can have a huge impact on how that conversation will go, she said. 

"Every little second counts from the moment the person hears your voice or if they see you approaching them," she said. 

"So make sure that you choose your words wisely, you don't act on emotions and you go about it in a proper fashion."

She suggested starting off the conversation with a friendly hello and some small talk, to try to put the person at ease. 

Then, politely state why you are concerned about the situation, she said. 

Kosik suggested saying something like "I really don't want to be difficult, but I'm sure you've heard in the latest news," so it's clear why you are concerned.

Then, you could say something like "I hate to ruin your good time, trust me, but I'm asking you to please disassemble," Kosik suggested. 

"So, again, you're expressing concerns and being kind and generous," she said.

LISTEN | Etiquette expert Nancy Kosik on how to navigate conversations about COVID-19 rule breaking:

Sometimes you have no choice but to intervene But before you pick up the phone...Try talking to the neighbor first. To do that - there are rules of etiquette you can follow. Nancy Kosik is an Etiquette and Protocol Consultant based in Montreal who shared some etiquette tips with host Marcy Markusa. 5:18

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Petz

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Sarah Petz is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. She was previously based at CBC New Brunswick. Her career has taken her across three provinces and includes a stint in East Africa. In 2017, she was part of a team of reporters and editors nominated for a National Newspaper Award for a feature on the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.petz@cbc.ca.

With files from Wendy Parker

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