Ottawa

Don't call 911 to report mask violations, Gatineau police plead

Gatineau police say they have "taken note" of the Quebec government's announcement that it wants to see stronger enforcement of the province's COVID-19 mask rules, but are asking residents to refrain from calling 911 to report offenders.

Starting Saturday, police across Quebec can hand out fines for non-compliance

Starting Saturday, police in Quebec will have the power to issue fines to anyone caught not wearing a mask in an enclosed public space. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Gatineau police say they have "taken note" of the Quebec government's announcement that it wants to see stronger enforcement of the province's COVID-19 mask rules, but are asking residents to refrain from calling 911 to report offenders.

Starting Saturday, police in Quebec will have the power to issue fines to anyone caught not wearing a mask in accordance with public health guidelines.

Premier François Legault said special attention will be given to regions classified as "yellow" under the province's new colour-coded pandemic alert system. The Outaouais is one of only four such regions in Quebec.

"We will look at the government's instructions and adjust our procedures accordingly," Gatineau police said in a statement Thursday.

However, they're also asking anyone who sees someone not wearing a mask to refrain from calling 911.

"This line is reserved for emergency calls only. If they wish to report a situation, they must call 819-246-0222," Gatineau police reminded residents.

WATCH | Quebec's premier makes the announcement:

Quebec has unveiled a new, colour-coded COVID-19 alert system. Here's how it works. 1:55

Burden off businesses

In Quebec, business owners have already faced fines for failing to enforce mask regulations, while their customers have faced no legal consequences. With that about to change, some Gatineau businesses said they're happy the burden is no longer on them alone.

"It helps us, in a way, that we don't feel as if it's our fault," said Bianka Gauthier, an employee of Hyperforme Nutrition. "We love the idea."

Bianka Gauthier said she's pleased businesses won't be the only ones expected to adhere to Quebec's mask laws. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Gauthier said customers would sometimes become agitated with employees when asked to put on masks.

"It's sad because when they don't have [their mask] with them ... they're mad, and it's not necessarily our fault. We just try to follow the rules," she said.

WATCH | Explaining Quebec's alert system:

Quebec Premier François Legault says 'irresponsible' citizens will face fines if they refuse to wear masks where it's mandatory. 1:07

No plans to up fines in Ottawa: Watson

Earlier this week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford included Ottawa with Toronto and Brampton as Ontario's COVID-19 "hot spots."

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said the city is watching the Quebec government's move, but so far has no plans to increase enforcement on this side of the Ottawa River.

Watson said enforcement was already stepped up last weekend around universities to prevent off-campus parties. He said two fines were issued, but both were for noise violations.

"Most people seem to be respecting the mask bylaw. Anytime I've ... been on the train I've seen 100 per cent compliance. Every time I've been in the grocery store, I've seen 100 per cent compliance," Watson said Thursday.

"At this stage, we continue to be vigilant, and I'm hoping we don't have to get to the point where we have to stop people and ticket them for not wearing a mask," said Watson. 

In a statement, the city's bylaw department said it continues to use an "education-first approach" when asking people to comply with mask use.

"[By-law and regulatory services] has however noted a very high rate of compliance with the by-law requirements," said bylaw director Roger Chapman. 

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