Winnipeg police make 1st arrest for alleged repeat violations of pandemic public health orders
More arrests made after anti-restrictions rally at The Forks Friday night, attendees say
Winnipeg police have made their first arrest of someone accused of violating pandemic public health orders, and say there are five outstanding arrest warrants for other alleged repeat offenders.
The arrest under the Provincial Offences Act — a first by the Winnipeg police — and the five outstanding warrants involve allegations of repeated violations of health orders, the police service said Friday.
"A warrant is a higher response than issuance of a ticket. But it is mirrored by the actions of an individual," Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Nick Paulet said during a Friday afternoon news conference.
The police service works closely with provincial COVID-19 enforcement officials to ensure the cases they pursue have a high likelihood of success when they go to court, said Paulet.
"We rely on the investigators to gather the information and the evidence," he said. "When we know we have something we can act on, and it's appropriate, then we'll take action."
Canadians have the right to gather, but a public health order that may leave some room for interpretation can make it harder for enforcement officials to decipher who is breaking the rules and who is not, said Paulet.
The warrants are a result of "lengthy investigations" into the five individuals and their breaches of the provincial public health orders, he said.
Paulet would not provide identify or comment on who was arrested.
Warrant issued for national anti-mask activist
Anti-masker Chris Saccoccia, otherwise known as Chris Sky, is among the five individuals for whom arrest warrants have been issued, a police spokesperson told CBC earlier Friday.
Saccoccia has developed a reputation for flouting pandemic public health orders, including failing to follow isolation rules.
He has been travelling across Canada to hold illegal rallies that draw hundreds of unmasked people in defiance of pandemic public health orders.
He has already had encounters with police in other cities, including in Toronto, where he was arrested last week.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister recently referred to him as an "idiot."
Manitoba enforcement officials have been ticketing organizers and participants of these rallies for weeks.
Another such rally was held Friday evening in Winnipeg at The Forks. Saccoccia was originally supposed to attend but had earlier suggested on social media he'll be avoiding Manitoba due to his outstanding arrest warrant.
The arrest warrant for Saccoccia is only enforceable in Manitoba, Paulet said.
WATCH | A Manitoban has been arrested for violating public health orders:
Anti-restrictions rally held at The Forks
About 200 people, who did not wear masks, attended the anti-restrictions rally at The Forks Friday, defying provincial public health orders that ban gathering with people outside a person's household. Some people brought their kids.
A representative with The Forks told CBC News that staff would be monitoring at the historical site. The province's public safety investigations unit and the Winnipeg police were also planning to be present, according to Paulet.
A speaker at the rally claimed those in the crowd were against public health restrictions, in part, because they wanted to be able to work and more easily making a living.
People in attendance also felt their freedoms are being infringed upon, said the speaker, who likened the public health restrictions to the laws enacted against Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
The speaker then condemned mainstream news media organizations for allegedly only reporting half-truths, and making it seem like Premier Brian Pallister is God. Some attendees harassed a freelance photographer.
Another speaker urged people to burn masks, describing them as a sign of submission.
No tickets appeared to have been issued to anyone during the event, nor was the crowd broken up. But some who attended later posted video on social media claiming a number of arrests were made after the rally.
Winnipeg police would not confirm Friday night if any arrests were made.
Earlier Friday, Paulet could not say whether more arrest warrants will be issued, because that decision is up to the PSIU, and it depends what enforcement officials see at The Forks, he said.
In a news release issued Friday afternoon, the Manitoba government reiterated that previous rallies are still under investigation and that further charges are expected.
Enforcement officers issued 102 tickets and 130 warnings to Manitobans last week for breaking public health rules, provincial data shows.
Of the tickets handed out, 88 were issued to individuals breaking the gathering rules, data shows.
Manitobans can be fined $298 for not wearing a mask inside a public place. Individuals breaking public health orders can be ticketed $1,296; corporations could be fined $5,000.
Repeat offenders and people who do not pay tickets on time will be fined double those amounts.
With files from Ian Froese and Austin Grabish