Saskatchewan

Bernier's election night gathering in Saskatoon draws criticism

As the votes came in on election night, People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier gathered with his supporters at a Saskatoon hotel.

Members of the Saskatoon Police and public health inspectors say they are following up.

People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, with his wife Catherine Letarte, speaks from a podium to supporters during the PPC headquarters election night event in Saskatoon on Sept. 20, 2021. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

As the votes came in on election night, People's Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier gathered with his supporters at a Saskatoon hotel. 

Many members of the large indoor crowd were unmasked, in violation of Saskatchewan's current public health orders.

Speaking to reporters Monday night, Bernier said he believes mask mandates are "unconstitutional [and] illegal," and that he is not responsible for his supporters' choices.

"People who showed up, they are responsible," he said. "And if they decided not to wear their mask, that is their responsibility."

This morning, Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe had sharp words for Bernier. 

"This is an individual that led a party in this election [that] ultimately embraced being a one-issue party," said Moe. "He's an anti-vax party, he'll be known as an anti-vax party from here on. It's unfortunate because of this: when a party embraces only the one issue of being an anti-vax party, you are really prolonging the pandemic."

Moe also responded to Bernier's comments about the legality of mask mandates, which Saskatchewan recently re-implemented on Sept. 17 as cases rose throughout the province. 

"He can make the comments he likes," said Moe. "I'm sure the Saskatoon city police will be dealing with any infractions that may have occurred."

On Monday night, the Saskatoon Police Service said it had been made aware of "concerns about masking at a local election event" and would be following up. 

Since then, police have released a statement to say that enforcement of the public health orders will be led by public health inspectors and supported by local police. 

"As it has done in the past in response to planned rallies during the pandemic, the SPS has taken a measured approach to ensure any event remains peaceful," the police service said. "This approach includes the gathering of intelligence regarding violations of the Public Health Order. That information will be forwarded to Public Health Inspectors for follow-up."

There is also a toll-free line (1-800-559-5502) for members of the public to report suspected public heath order violations.

Employees of the Saskatoon Inn Hotel and Conference Centre, where Bernier held his event, were not immediately available for comment.

Jim Bence, president and CEO of Hospitality Saskatchewan, said he was "really disappointed" to be watching a largely unmasked event take place at a Saskatchewan hotel on election night. 

"I think when folks behave like that, it just puts so many folks at risk — particularly our staff," he said. "I think there are public health measures in place for a reason, and when this type of thing occurs, it just puts the operators and their staff in a very difficult position." 

Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association President and CEO Jim Bence says he was 'very disappointed' by what he saw on election night. (CBC)

Bence worries that service industry workers are at risk of backlash and harassment when they are "put in the position of being the enforcement people" for the public health orders, especially when guests have strong negative opinions about mask mandates or physical distancing. 

"Where is the support for our operators and our frontline staff?" he asked. "For [hotel] operators, what is their obligation to step up? Do they now have to hire teams of security to enforce these kinds of things?"

As the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Saskatchewan, Bence hopes hotel guests will not put employees and operators in a similar situation again.

"Don't be a jerk," said Bence. "Be patient, be kind and stay within the guidelines."

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