Solicitor general unveils enforcement protocols ahead of planned protests
Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu revealed a new enforcement protocol, saying he expects police officers and health inspectors to work together and enforce public health restrictions.
The protocol — designed to co-ordinate a multi-agency response to repeat offenders — partners up Alberta Health Services; the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission; the Crown prosecution office; Occupational Health and Safety; the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police; and law enforcement agencies. It also creates a task force led by AHS to co-ordinate inspection and enforcement.
The new protocol emphasizes education before enforcement and allows for multiple penalties at once, including ticketing, revoking business and liquor licences, and closing non-compliant businesses.
The move follows a weekend meeting with law enforcement officials, during which Madu said he told police to be proactive.
Asked by reporters about police chiefs who said the province directed them to avoid clogging up the courts with mask infractions, Madu said he had no idea where that directive came from.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley, however, cited comments by assistant deputy minister for justice Bill Sweeney on April 6, speaking to the public accounts committee. Notley quoted Sweeney as saying enforcement was a last resort, and officers would start with education first.
“The plan that has been articulated by this government to focus in on repeat offenders says to me that their plan is to give everybody their first rodeo free,” Notley told reporters on Wednesday.
Madu said it’s regrettable that Crown prosecutors have thrown out 40 per cent of public health offences since last March, adding as justice minister he can’t direct the prosecution service to prosecute individual cases.
Cracking down on repeat offenders and gathering intelligence
New measures unveiled Tuesday include doubling of fines and tougher penalties for repeat Covid scofflaws.
Alberta Health Services physically closed the Whistle Stop Cafe Wednesday after its owners violated public health restrictions multiple times. The restaurant was scheduled to host an anti-lockdown rally this coming weekend.
Madu said the RCMP, local law enforcement and AHS were all aware of the rodeo beforehand but decided not to intervene. Instead, they opted to gather intelligence at the event and are continuing an investigation.
“The best way to explain it to Albertans is to say, at the end of the day, the laws are there, the tools are there, the resources are there, and we must trust the judgment of those in law enforcement and Alberta Health Services to whom we have entrusted with the responsibility to enforce and to ensure compliance,” Madu said.
More Crown prosecutors — possibly from the private sector
Meanwhile, Premier Jason Kenney told reporters the province is considering a plan to hire more Crown prosecutors to deal with a surge in public health violations, including potentially contracting out work to private law firms.
The NDP, meanwhile, has proposed using the Administrative Penalties Act to deal with offenders. The changes under the act, passed last year, were intended to deal with traffic tickets and impaired drivers in an expedited way to free up the courts.
Notley said the UCP government promised to hire 100 to 120 new Crown prosecutors as part of its law and order mandate, but has only hired around 30.