Winnipeg mayor wants province to provide clarity on COVID-19 enforcement measures

Mayor Brian Bowman wouldn't outright criticize provincial efforts to enforce public health orders, but says he does have to "manage expectations" about who is in charge of enforcing those rules.

Bowman says focus of Manitoba health inspectors 'appears to be on businesses only'

Provincial health inspectors appear to be focused on enforcing public health orders for businesses, Mayor Brian Bowman, left, said Wednesday. (CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman didn't openly criticize provincial efforts to enforce public health orders, but said he does have to "manage expectations" about who is in charge of that enforcement.

Bowman made comments about the responsibility for maintaining physical distancing rules during a Wednesday media briefing.

"The focus of the provincial health inspectors appears to be on businesses only, and as a default the province is relying on law enforcement agencies for other public spaces," Bowman said.

Winnipeg's mayor says that clarity is more important as the May long weekend approaches.

"Especially with the warmer weather [expected later this week] I think it's important that we manage the public's expectations and we be clear about who's responsible for what enforcement measures."

A provincial public health order limits gatherings to a maximum of 10 people.

As well, a city regulation is in place that requires two metres separation in parks and open spaces.

Winnipeg has 44 community service ambassadors and 20 bylaw officers patrolling parks and other city properties to enforce the regulations.

They have given hundreds of warnings to residents about the health orders, but so far have only issued only two summons for breaking the rules.

Bowman referred to a public protest at the Manitoba Legislature this past weekend, where participants ignored physical distancing rules and public health orders. No provincial health officers appeared to be on site.

"The manner in which the province is enforcing is a decision for the provincial government to make. And we're doing our best within our city parks," Bowman said.

There was no sign that anti-lockdown protesters at Manitoba Legislative Building on Saturday were approached by provincial officials about ignoring physical distancing rules. (Mohamed-Amin Kehel/Radio-Canada)

Premier Brian Pallister responded to Bowman's call for clarity by promising an update on enforcement on Thursday.

"I think it is important for the very few who would put others at risk to know that there [are] stepped-up enforcement measures that are going to impact them," Pallister told reporters at a Wednesday morning news conference.

"There are fines that are going to be levied if they disrespect the safety requirements that are necessary to protect themselves and others in our province."

People who break the province's health orders — which ban public and outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people and require people in stores to stay two metres apart — can be fined $486 for individuals and $2,542 for businesses.

The city can hand out tickets with penalties of up to $1,000 and six months in jail for violating its rules in parks and other city spaces under existing bylaws.

Concerns raised about crowding on buses

Meanwhile, the union representing Winnipeg Transit workers says safe physical distancing isn't being practised on the city's buses.

Effective May 4, the city reduced bus service and laid off more than 250 drivers, after passenger levels and revenue dropped dramatically because of the health emergency.

That coincided with the day many businesses in Manitoba were allowed to open for the first time in weeks.

"After last week I can only conclude Transit does not have the required people power to properly maintain a safe level of physical distancing daily," Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 vice-president James Van Gerwen said in an email.

The union shared a photo which it says shows overcrowding on a bus last week.

The Amalgamated Transit Union says this photo shows overcrowding on a bus on the Ellice-St. Mary's route last week. (Submitted by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505)

The city's assistant chief in charge of emergency management, Jason Shaw, says it is difficult to place a number on what is considered overcrowding on buses when, for example, counting passengers such as family members who sit together. 

Shaw says Winnipeg Transit is monitoring passenger loads using automatic counters on buses, as well as checks through its control centre, by on-street inspectors and through feedback from drivers.

"Additional buses are being put into service as necessary to deal and assist with passenger loads," Shaw said.

The city put an extra 47 buses on the road on Monday and an additional 39 on Tuesday to deal with increases in the number of passengers as businesses reopen.

Shaw says the transit service continues to see ridership numbers between 65 and 70 per cent below normal passenger levels, but the loads are being closely monitored.

The Amalgamated Transit Union says it is receiving notices from a growing number of drivers who are either resigning or retiring, which is "compounding the problem" for the city to step up resources to meet demand.