COVID-19 patient has message for Sask. police, officials: Enforce public health laws

As Kelly Munce wheezed and coughed in his hospital bed last weekend, fearing for his life, hundreds took in anti-mask protests across Saskatchewan.

Kelly Munce was admitted to hospital on the same day anti-mask rallies were held across the province

Kelly Munce has been in Regina General Hospital for nearly a week due to COVID-19 complications. Watching a recent online video of a Saskatchewan health inspector shaking hands with an anti-mask protester felt like someone 'just spit in my face,' he says. (Submitted by Kelly Munce)

As Kelly Munce wheezed and coughed in his Regina hospital bed last weekend, fearing for his life, hundreds took in anti-mask protests across Saskatchewan.

Police and health officials looked on at the games, hugs and face painting during a maskless children's festival in Saskatoon. A health inspector shook hands with the maskless organizer of an out-of-province convoy during a stop in Maple Creek and invited the man to stay a while.

"That was like he just spit in my face. I'm lying in hospital with COVID-19 and he's … going up to a guy who's claiming it's fake and doesn't exist, claiming 'freedom' and 'don't wear masks.' I was just dumbfounded by that," Munce said in a phone interview from his Regina General Hospital bed this week.

"I'm starting to think it's a symbol they're not enforcing the rules. We put [laws] out there and we're just hoping for people's good judgment to do that. Some people just aren't going to use their judgment."

Munce said it's clear to him the protesters are not able to think rationally and will not listen to polite requests. They won't stop until someone makes them stop, he believes.

A large crowd attended a maskless children's festival at a downtown Saskatoon park last weekend in violation of public health laws, which limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people. (CBC)

University of Saskatchewan infectious disease expert Andrew Potter agrees. He said police must break up the gatherings, or at least ticket everyone there on the spot.

Instead, police have escorted protesters and blocked off road and park access to the public during these illegal gatherings and marches. They have sometimes issued tickets following events.

"The way it comes across is that the police are, in fact, protecting the protesters, not protecting the vast majority of the province of Saskatchewan," Potter said.

"That's just not right. We have public health orders on the books and they need to be enforced. If they're not enforced, it's a farce."

Under current public health orders, the legal maximum outdoor gathering size in Saskatchewan is 10 people.

'We have public health orders on the books,' says University of Saskatchewan infectious disease expert Andrew Potter. 'If they're not enforced, it's a farce.' (Submitted by Andrew Potter)

Potter says it's been obvious for months that officials have taken very little action against rule-breakers. Health authorities in Alberta and Saskatchewan have warned that participants at past rallies may have been exposed to COVID-19, including those at a recent Prince Albert rally.

In total, police say 17 tickets were issued across Saskatchewan as a result of last weekend's rallies. Munce said that's a start, but not nearly enough.

Police, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and government officials say they now realize they have to do more. Saskatchewan Justice Minister Gordon Wyant said this week his government plans to increase fines, with new penalties should be in place by mid-May.

"We're certainly interested in ensuring that the public health orders are complied with, that law enforcement continues to enforce those public health orders, and that public prosecutions continues to enforce those through the courts," Wyant said.

It's unclear what level of enforcement is planned, but another series of anti-mask rallies are planned for early next month in Regina and other communities.

Some Saskatchewan protesters apparently left this week in a convoy bound for Vancouver, posting updates on their social media accounts.

With Regina hospitals and intensive care units straining under the influx of COVID-19 patients, Munce is due to be sent home this week with supplemental oxygen. He'll be supervised daily by a nurse.

He's improving, but said he's nowhere near 100 per cent.

"Just getting used to all that," Munce said. "Hoping it's not a long term thing."