When should COVID curfew start in Manitoba, who should be exempt? Province launches survey

Manitoba is diving headlong into gathering public feedback on whether a curfew should be imposed to help halt the rising tide of COVID-19 cases, and if so, what it should look like.

Premier Brian Pallister blames 'late-night situations in Winnipeg' for the recent deluge of cases

An empty street in Winnipeg in March, near the start of the pandemic. On Tuesday, the province launched a brief online survey with questions about what time each day a possible curfew should start. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manitoba is diving headlong into gathering public feedback on whether a curfew should be imposed to help halt the rising tide of COVID-19 cases, and if so, what it should look like.

Premier Brian Pallister broke the news on Monday that his government is "seriously considering" imposing a curfew, blaming "late-night situations in Winnipeg" for the recent deluge of cases.

Since Friday, the province has reported 1,382 new COVID-19 cases, and now has the highest number of cases per capita in Canada. There have been 80 COVID-related deaths in the province since the start of the pandemic — 60 of which have have come in the past month.

On Tuesday, the province launched a brief online survey with questions about what time each day a curfew should start, who should be exempt (such as first responders, city crews, grocery store workers), and which areas of the province should be subject to a curfew.

It doesn't identify, however, the time each day that a curfew might be lifted.

The survey also asks people to list places where they have seen people violating the current restrictions in place in Manitoba, and how they report those violations.

Winnipeg streets were empty in the spring, when a full shutdown was implemented. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"[Manitoba is] obviously in a very tough position … and now is the time to take those more extreme measures to get this under control so they don't overwhelm their health-care system," Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, told CBC News Now host Heather Hiscox on Tuesday.

"It's important to acknowledge that this [curfew] is really the last tool you have in the tool box to take care of the situation."

When case numbers are low, governments can act in a more precise manner, focusing on narrow measures to keep those numbers low, he said.

"But when case numbers rise to such a level, the options to get this under control are just fewer and fewer."

'Societal challenge'

During a news conference on Tuesday, Pallister was asked why he didn't commission a research firm to gauge public opinion on curfews through a scientific survey and random sampling, rather than rely on an online survey prone to bias and multiple responses from one person with different email addresses.

He acknowledged the online survey can be criticized but it makes it easy and quick to deliver on a single-issue basis, and also gives the public a chance to be involved and have their views heard.

"On some issues, perhaps with more complexity than a curfew, you might want to go to much more detailed and time-consuming processes," Pallister said. "But on this one I'm simply asking Manitobans for their feedback."

About 3,000 people had already filled out the survey as of Tuesday morning, he noted.

When the government is looking to restrict people's freedom of movement, it's important to make sure the public agrees a curfew is necessary, said Premier Brian Pallister, about why he is offering a public survey. (Government of Manitoba/YouTube)

Pallister said he has heard criticisms about the public engagement process, with people suggesting it's unnecessary and the government should simply implement a curfew if it's needed.

"The fact of the matter is, this is a societal challenge that is best addressed by having people buy in to the proposals that we make," he said.

"It's important, when you're restricting people's freedom of movement, that we make sure that we ask the public for their views on this first. The more people that have a chance to participate in the design of our programs, I feel the better possibility that they'll work."

For any curfew to work, the province will also need the need buy-in from Winnipeg police and RCMP to enforce it, Pallister said, again pointing a finger at the need to break up "the big house parties that have been happening."

Of course, some details still need to be worked out, such as how to work with homeless people and what constitutes essential travel during curfew hours.

Those are considerations Pallister hopes the consultations will help find resolve. And there will be room for discretion, he said.

"I want to make sure we're not unduly restricting or hurting anybody in their freedom who is responsible and behaving responsibly."

Telephone town hall

In a news release Tuesday, the province said it will be asking Manitobans to offer feedback and thoughts in a variety of other ways in the coming days, too, including telephone town halls, stakeholder roundtables and additional surveys.

"Our number one priority is protecting Manitobans, and we want to stay connected and hear directly from Manitobans, even when we must stay physically apart," Pallister said in the release.

The province intends to host weekly telephone town halls on different topics around COVID-19, he said. The first, scheduled for Thursday, will focus on enforcement of the public health orders and the possible curfew.

People can register online to take part in Thursday's telephone town hall.

Future town halls will look at enforcement practices for COVID-19 restrictions, vulnerable populations, and personal care homes.

Plans for future stakeholder roundtable discussions will be announced in the coming weeks, the province said.

"I want to emphasize that we need the help of all Manitobans to get the message across that we are in this together, and we all have a role to play in protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our community," Pallister said.

"We know Manitobans have valuable insights and will provide great input, and I look forward to working with Manitobans to help make these important decisions together."


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.


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