Fining every anti-mask protester 'not practical': Regina police chief

Regina police chief Evan Bray said officers counted between 250-300 attendees during a protest on Saturday and it would be impractical to fine all of them for violating a public health order.

Two organizers of the event Saturday were fined $2,800 each

Police say they counted between 250-300 people during a protest at the legislative building on Saturday, most of whom weren't wearing masks or physically distancing. (Cory Coleman/CBC)

Regina police chief Evan Bray says it would have been impractical to fine everyone who attended a protest at the legislative building on Saturday, even though it violated a public health order.

Organizers billed it as a "freedom rally" where attendees protested COVID-19 restrictions and attempted to discredit health experts, government officials and the media.

Bray said police spoke with organizers of the protest before it took place and "Reiterated the point numerous times with them that we were expecting them to follow the public health order and the public health guidelines," he told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition

However, very few attendees wore masks or physically distanced, and Bray said police counted between 250-300 people at the gathering during its peak — which is well over the 30 person limit for outdoor public gatherings — yet only two fines were handed out.

"It's really not practical to go around and write tickets to every single person there," he said.

Police handled the situation in the same way they have been responding to other large gatherings, according to Bray.

He said police have written a "handful" of tickets over the last couple of weeks for violating public health orders, but they'll typically just write the homeowner or party organizer a ticket.

Two event organizers — from Saskatoon and Deer Valley — were fined $2,800 each.

Enforcing public health order similar to other laws

Bray said attendees seemed to challenge whether violating a public health order is illegal or not.

He said although peaceful protest is protected under the Charter of Rights of Freedoms, "There are some things you can't do, legally."

"This public health order, to us in the policing and the enforcement world, is really no different than any other law that we enforce," he said.

"We understand what the line is. We understand the reason and the purpose that it's there, and we will continue to be vigilant on that. 

Other rallies 'cognizant' of public health order

There have been other protests in recent months that also involved a large gathering of people.

"Any of the other rallies that have happened in the city have been really, I think, cognizant of the public health order," Bray said, noting that organizers asked people to follow health recommendations like wearing a mask, physically distancing and using hand sanitizer.

Bray said police are always trying to find a balance between people who want strict enforcement of the public health order, and those who don't want it enforced at all.

"What we have to understand is that, number one, this is a legal public health order. Number two, the intention is to protect the safety of our community and our citizens."

"That really is where we're seeing some vulnerability," he said, noting the high number of cases in Regina recently.

He said events like Saturday's protest put many people at risk both inside and outside of the city.

"I dare say a lot of that group ... many of which were not even from our city, stopped at gas stations, might have stopped at a restaurant, who knows where they stopped," he said,

"Knowing that they're quite flippant to the public health order, to me, puts us at risk and other parts of our community as well."

With files from The Morning Edition