Manitoba to unveil new measures to enforce physical distancing, premier says

Manitoba is set to clamp down on people who refuse to follow public health advice around physical distancing rules during the health emergency, Premier Brian Pallister said Monday.

Mayor demands clarity as city inundated by complaints about violations

Few people are venturing out on downtown Winnipeg streets due to physical distancing orders - but there are enough people disrespecting directives to warrant new meausures, the premier said. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manitoba will introduce new measures to enforce physical distancing because some people continue to flout public health advice, Premier Brian Pallister said Monday.

Pallister said "additional steps" aimed at compelling Manitobans to comply with public health orders intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 are "on the radar" and he will elaborate later this week.

"It is a concern when people refuse to understand the hurtful consequences of their thoughtless conduct," Pallister said during a press briefing. He strongly suggested some scofflaws need financial incentive to comply with the two-metres-apart rule.

The province must first determine whether what it has planned is constitutional, but he said, the need is growing more pressing as the weather warms.

"We all know that this is a beautiful place in the spring and people are going to want to get out," Pallister said. "I've seen more people walking than I've seen in years, and not everybody is necessarily religiously adhering to the guidelines."

The province also will decide what advice to provide Manitobans about visiting cottages, provincial parks and wilderness areas this spring,  Pallister said.

He said the province must balance the health benefits of outdoor recreation with the potential harm caused by people travelling within the province and potentially transferring COVID-19 to other people.

Pallister said he will consult Ontario Premier Doug Ford for advice on how to find that harmony.

'Life and death'

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin also said public health orders may become more strict in terms of where Manitobans can go and in what numbers.

"We're going to continue to escalate our orders as necessary and we are continuing to find ways to to further enforce these orders," Roussin said, which is still under review and could involve provincial workers from a number of different departments.

"So we are looking at ways to try to enforce orders in those circumstances because we need Manitobans to realize that this is serious," he said.

"This is, right now, life and death."


Latest local news:


Roussin said there are no plans to close parks, as that could lead to unintended consequences such as leading people to visit crowded areas.

He also said he would prefer Winnipeggers stay at home and not visit cottage country.

Not a 911 call

Pallister has repeatedly asked Manitobans to be vocal when they see people disrespecting public health orders. 

As a result, some Winnipeggers have been reporting physical distancing violations to 911, instead of flagging concerns to provincial public health inspectors, Winnipeg police spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said.

There is nothing Winnipeg police can do with this information, Carver said, adding that officers have not been granted authority to enforce it.

"It's either going to come from the province ... or it could come from the city but it is not us," Carver told reporters on Monday. "It is not a directive that we would take.

"We would react to it and deploy resources and begin enforcing directions. But we don't have that direction yet." 

"We have no resources to send out to talk to people to just generally speak about their concerns. It's not an emergency from a law enforcement standpoint," Carver said.

In Brandon, 911 call takers have received similar calls, Brandon's manager of emergency communications told CBC News late last month. 

Bowman seeks 'clarity' 

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said Monday he wants "clarity" from the province and wants it "very soon."

Bowman said the city is fielding numerous inquiries from Winnipeg residents about gatherings of people that break provincial health orders.

"If we can work to support and complement their efforts, that is something we will do ... we are certainly hearing questions and concerns about people not following social distancing," Bowman told reporters on Monday.

He said a crackdown on non-compliance cannot come soon enough.

In the meantime, some city councillors have taken up the charge on social media, as the COVID-19 situation continues to mount.

Bowman said he has raised the issue with the province for several days and has yet to receive direction. He pointed to municipalities such as Toronto, Mississauga and Vancouver, where stiff fines are in place for ignoring distance orders.

In Ottawa, bylaw officers have already handed out dozens of tickets and some hefty fines for those who continue to resist by opening up non-critical shops, remaining in closed parks and sitting on park benches.

"We obviously need to get clarity on that very soon because with each passing day, if folks aren't following the recommendations from Manitoba Health, they're putting their own safety and the safety of our community in jeopardy," Bowman said.


National roundup:


With files from Sean Kavanagh and Sarah Petz