New Brunswick

Education over enforcement: What to expect under new physical distancing rules

The first weekend under new physical distancing rules saw both residents and law enforcement figure out how to adapt to the new normal.

Caraquet man fined for breaking new mandatory two-metre distancing rule

The province has ramped up enforcement of orders for physical distancing, and has made staying two metres away from people mandatory. (Fredericton Police Force/Twitter)

The first weekend under new physical distancing rules saw both residents and law enforcement figuring out how to adapt to the new normal.

On Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs announced the province would be cracking down on violations of the physical distancing order.

Staying two metres away from another person is mandatory, except in the case of members of the same household, and in some cases at work. 

People found breaking the two-metre distance rule, or gathering in large groups can now be charged and fined between $292 and $10,200.

Keith Gagnon of Caraquet found out about the new enforcement rules the hard way. 

On Saturday, he was handed a ticket for $292 for driving with a friend he doesn't live with. The two were on their way to get a car wash.

Keith Gagnon plans on contesting a $292 ticket for breaking the physical distancing order, because he says he didn't know the rules had changed. (Submitted by Keith Gagnon.)

Gagnon said he plans on contesting the ticket, since he doesn't feel it was fair for the officer to fine him without giving him a warning first. 

"I was just finishing a night shift and never knew about that law," said Gagnon in an email to the CBC.

Despite the incident this past weekend, Gagnon said he is taking the outbreak seriously, and has been practising physical distancing as best as he can. 

"I never left my home," he said. "I don't want my family to get this disease."

Education first

New Brunswick RCMP spokesperson Const. Hans Ouellette couldn't give any specifics about new ticketing practices but said it's something officers across the province are taking seriously.

"We're asking people to do what New Brunswickers do so well, which is we look out for one another. So our primary focus still remains working with the communities to do everything that we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19."

Ouellette wouldn't give details of what officers might be on the lookout for, as each case is different, but said they are basing their response on advice from Public Health.

"That may include tickets or other enforcement actions for people who are not following the directive aimed at keeping everyone safe," he said.

RCMP are urged to educate people about new physical distancing rules before handing out tickets and fines. (CBC News file)

He added that ticketing is at the discretion of each officer, but not adhering to a self-isolation order after entering the province or being within two metres of someone you don't live with are things that could potentially bring fines.

Ouellette said the officers' first reflex should be to educate rule-breakers. 

"Are you going to see police officers out there with yardsticks measuring how far apart everyone is? Probably not. … Are we going to be stopping every car we see with more than two people in it? No.

"Our main goal out of all of this, before the enforcement action comes into play, is to have that collaborative work, that educational piece to really be able to help people make the right decisions."

A runner and walker keep their distance from each other on the Charlottetown boardwalk. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

No numbers for tickets or fines issued have been released by the RCMP or the province.

The Saint John Police Force said no tickets have been issued under the compliance order so far.

"The SJPF is encouraging and promoting compliance," said spokesperson Jim Hennessy in an email.

Kennebecasis Regional Police Force spokesperson Inspector Anika Becker said the force did not issue any tickets on the weekend for physical distancing violations.

Other local police forces have yet to provide comments.

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