Manitoba hires private security firm to crack down on COVID-19 rule breakers starting this weekend
Province also filing charges against Steinbach protesters, Manitoba premier says
Private security officers will crack down on rule breakers after shoppers crowded into big-box stores, where many bought non-essential goods during the first weekend of the province's latest lockdown.
The province has hired security firm G4S Canada to boost its enforcement of COVID-19 regulations, and their personnel should be handing out tickets by this weekend, Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday.
The province is also filing charges in addition to levying fines against those who took part in a rally in Steinbach this past weekend where protesters flouted COVID-19 regulations, Pallister said.
"I believe Manitobans want to see deterrents to the kind of behaviour they saw on the weekend, and we're going to make sure those deterrents exist," he said.
Pallister said he respects people's right to peaceful protest, but those who took part in that protest put people in danger.
"You don't have to believe in COVID, COVID already believes in you," he said.
Personnel from G4S Canada are in orientation right now and will be working this weekend, Pallister said.
The staff at the security company are skilled at dealing with confrontation, which is part of the reason they were hired, Pallister said.
"It's a company that has people who are used to dealing with situations where, let's just say, it's not always pleasant … as opposed to a lot of our government employees that don't have that experience personally," he said.
WATCH | Premier Brian Pallister explains why G4S was hired:
Band-Aid solution: MGEU
All of Manitoba was put into code red restrictions last Thursday, forcing most non-essential businesses and services to close, as the province's caseload continues to soar.
Essential products include groceries, personal hygiene items, hardware and household appliances.
A total of 32 tickets were issued for various offences over the last week, including for large gathering sizes, failure to quarantine and a northern travel violation, says a news release from the province.
Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, called the hiring of G4S a Band-Aid solution, and said the province should have done more to invest in its own workforce.
"Though civil servants are more than willing to do their part in the fight against COVID-19 and will continue to do so, simply adding unfamiliar pandemic enforcement duties to existing staff workloads is not a sustainable solution," she said in an email.
"Having stripped the civil service to the bone and having failed to prepare for the second wave [of COVID-19], this government is scrambling to bring in temporary support for enforcement on an urgent basis."
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said that he thinks more enforcement is needed, but that it should have been prioritized months ago, when the province first started seeing signs of increased community spread.
While the rally in Steinbach on the weekend was upsetting to a lot of people, what is more upsetting is what's happening in Manitoba's hospitals, the Opposition leader said.
"What really upsets us even more than that is a potential crisis unfolding in our hospitals and in our personal care homes," he said.
Restrictions for big box stores being looked at
A new daily record was set on Sunday, when 494 more COVID-19 cases were announced. Another 392 cases were announced on Monday, and 270 more on Tuesday.
The total number of deaths in the province due to the pandemic is now 179. Of those, 110 deaths have come since the start of November.
On Monday, Pallister said the government was considering imposing tighter restrictions on big-box stores, suggesting they are flouting the spirit of the lockdown orders.
Places like Walmart, Costco and Superstore have been allowed to remain open because they are deemed essential retailers, providing groceries and pharmacies.
Long lines of customers have been seen waiting to get inside those stores, where they are able to purchase non-essential goods like toys, books and furniture.
Some people have also complained that stores like Ikea and Best Buy have also remained open.
Smaller independent businesses that don't carry a wide range of products have been forced to shutter during the lockdown.
Preventing big-box stores from selling products not considered essential is clearly "one element that has to be looked at," Pallister said on Monday.
Watch Pallister's full news conference below: