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‘Harassing individuals with police escorts’: Councillors need harder motion on anti-maskers

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – With no end in sight to this third wave of COVID-19 in Alberta, there is no end in sight for further demonstrations against existing health restrictions.

There were further protests by anti-maskers last weekend, including a march along 17 Ave. in Calgary and a two-day rodeo outside the town of Bowden in central Alberta. It is unclear whether tickets were handed out in Calgary, and while RCMP was visiting the rodeos near Bowden, no action was taken to close them as hundreds were in attendance.

When Evan Woolley, Councilor of Ward 8, heard from the chairman of the Calgary Police Commission at City Hall on Monday, he said he was fed up.

“They go through the streets harassing people with police escorts,” he said. “I think there is deep frustration.”

In response to the re-emphasized concern, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said a meeting of the emergency management committee would be convened to discuss the issue and see if further action could be taken.

Chair Bonita Croft was asked if the Commission – a civilian-led regulator that supports the governance of the Calgary Police Service – has a position on the issue and is pushing for changes.

But she said her hands were tied due to limited enforcement powers.

“The resources to enforce the health instructions are really limited,” she said. “We absolutely share your frustrations.”

Police have stated on multiple occasions that they have found themselves in a challenging position by upholding the Charter’s rights to freedom of expression while protecting the public and issuing tickets or fines if people break some of the rules.

As of April 29, 383 violation tickets had been issued to individuals who had not worn face coverings since August 1, 2020, with 22 of those tickets issued since April 22. In addition, 213 tickets have been issued under the Public Health Act since last November, but none of them were written in the past week.

Nenshi added that it is possible that prosecutors may play a role in this alleged lack of enforcement, and told the council he heard that tickets would be thrown out if challenged.

“And when the rumors I’ve heard that the Crown actually reaches the police and says, ‘We are very busy, the court systems are secure, please slow down the issuing of these tickets’, they are true. I am even more frustrated”, he said. “I publicly call on the Crown and the court system to be accountable and to ensure that people who manifestly endanger others are not treated with child gloves by the court system.

“We have to do much, much better.”

In response to these allegations, a Justice Secretary spokesman said the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) “has not asked any police force or Public Health Act investigators to stop issuing such violations tickets.”

However, a large number of tickets have been withdrawn as the statement added that 40 percent of tickets issued between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 were thrown away. During this period, a total of 576 tickets issued under the Public Health Act have been issued, 38 percent of which remain in court. Of the remaining tickets, 12 percent resulted in a conviction or paid for in court, and 10 percent were “overturned” or otherwise judged in court.

“There are no guidelines or decisions to systematically withdraw such violations. All of these tickets are rated in the same way as other Criminal Code and Provincial offenses under the ACPS Standard for Law Enforcement: there must be a reasonable likelihood of conviction and there must be a public interest in prosecution, ”the statement said .

Meanwhile, Nenshi was still encouraging people to file police reports when they see people breaking the law. But Woolley wondered if this was a pointless exercise after telling about a woman who was attacked by hate groups on Calgary Transit and felt unsafe.

“Why would someone file a police report when all of these activities are taking place right in front of the police? For many, the police are ready and do nothing. “

Nenshi said there is too much talk by people who think the rules don’t apply to them and at some point more options need to be available. He said he recently spoke to Chief Constable Mark Neufeld and raised a question about what the answer would be if different groups of people did the same thing.

“If we had anti-globalism protesters this way or anti-racist activists this way a few years ago, we would probably see shields, water cannons and tear gas. The boss calmed me down very well and said that it didn’t work at the time either, ”he said.

Croft said all of this is made difficult by the fact that nothing seems to stop people from taking even the most modest of measures there is.

“(Police) are putting significant resources into managing the protests, attending these events, doing their best to enforce health orders, and the response is to keep hurting them.”

When asked on Friday whether the provincial government intends to take further action to empower the police force, a spokesman for Justice Minister Kaycee Madu reiterated a frequently used position that the government could not tell the police what to do.

“All police services in Alberta operate independently of the provincial government,” said Blaise Boehmer’s statement. “The provincial government respects the operational decision-making authority of the Alberta police force to conduct enforcement in a manner that balances public safety, the law and the public interest.

“In addition, Community peace officers have the option of declining to be granted these enhanced powers. In addition, at this point in time, municipal statutes relating to the COVID-19 pandemic remain in force, which can be enforced by peace commissioners and the municipal statutes. “