By Lethbridge Herald on April 17, 2020.
The Lethbridge Police Service is reluctant to hand out tickets for violations of public health orders related to COVID-19 if a warning is sufficient to gain compliance and stop the behaviour which is leading to the social risk.
“Like everything we do in policing it’s based on a case-by-case basis,” Insp. Jason Walper of the LPS told reporters during the City’s weekly briefing on Friday about the local response to the COVID-19 crisis. “Our officers are provided the latitude and discretion at all times when they are dealing with a situation, and they will continue to assess every call they go to on a case-by-case basis, and decide the best course of action given that particular incident they are dealing with.”
“Ultimately, we want people to comply with the public health orders, and we truly believe education plays a huge part in that,” he added. “We have certainly instructed our members if they attend a call for service, if there is a breach of a public health order, and the situation warrants it, to educate the people involved. If the individuals are co-operative, if they change their behaviour, then we’re more than happy and willing to issue a warning in those circumstances.”
Referring specifically to an episode chronicled in Wednesday’s Herald where officers were called to break up parties at the same residence twice, parties which were in clear violation of public health order related to public gatherings of 15 or more people, Walper said the situation was not as cut and dried as some members of the public reading the story might believe.
“In that particular case, we learned it was actually two different parties with different people involved,” he explained. “That particular residence you are referring to is actually a rental home: the main floor rented to one person; the basement suite to another person who is not related. We did attend in the first instance, spoke with people on the first call for service, they were co-operative and did listen to our suggestions to shut down the party. We left that particular occurrence only to be called back. The neighbouring residences were thinking it was the same party and the same people. When we did get there it was actually not the people we had dealt with the first time. It was a different residence, and the individuals there were afforded the same opportunity and they were also co-operative and were issued a warning.”
Walper was asked if it might not be necessary to make an example of someone at some point to deter those who might be contemplating similar parties from doing so by issuing fines instead of warnings.
“We’re not there to make an example out of anybody,” he responded. “That is not our job. Our officers have the discretion to deal with it how they feel is appropriate. I think it is also important to put it in perspective. The Calgary police released recently they had only issued seven charges of non-compliance in a city of 1.3 million people. At the end of the day, we don’t want to have to issue a $1,200 ticket to any of our citizens if we can avoid doing that.”
Walper said his officers continue to have the personal discretion to issue public health order fines when they feel it is appropriate, and will do so if necessary.
On a related note, Walper also confirmed the LPS had received requests from the Public Health Agency of Canada to confirm three local residents who were ordered quarantined after returning from abroad still remain in their homes, and are in compliance with the Quarantine Act.
“The Public Health Agency of Canada first assesses these individuals returning to Canada and decide what type of compliance checks they would like to see,” he explained. “It is categorized into something that is a mandatory check and immediately because they believe there is some sort of a risk. Or it could be just a routine type of check just to ensure the person is complying. Those are forwarded through to the police service, and we are providing those to our officers on the street who will then respond and make contact with that person.”
Walper said officers will first phone the residence and inform the self-quarantining person they will be coming over for a check. Officers donning the proper safety gear will then head over to confirm visually that the person ordered quarantined is present and will request ID to ensure the person’s identity.
If the person is not at home when officers call, the officers will head over and do a door-knock check. If the person is proven not to be at the residence when officers come, they will be served with a court summons to explain why they are in violation of the Quarantine Act.
Walper said the compliance check requests received from the Public Health Agency of Canada were the first ones the LPS has received since the pandemic began, and the requests had come in on Thursday.
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