By Lethbridge Herald on December 10, 2020.
Lethbridge Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh says the time for education on the masking issue is over as the Lethbridge Police Service moves toward a greater enforcement phase of the City’s temporary face-covering bylaw in conjunction with new public health measures announced by the province earlier this week.
“The Lethbridge Police Service respects, and will defend, the rights of all citizens to express their view on issues including mandatory safety restrictions put in place by the province and the City of Lethbridge to contain the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said during a media conference on Thursday. “Our preferred approach is to educate and seek voluntary compliance with the measures that have been put in place.
“Unfortunately, the nature of such (anti-masking) protests recently we have seen has elevated in Lethbridge as of late. Sometimes extreme protests interfere with the rights and freedoms of other citizens who are doing their part to reduce the spread of the virus. In the process those protesters also put community safety at risk.”
Mehdizadeh said his officers will take the appropriate enforcement actions when people in the community are put in harm’s way due to such extreme protest activities.
“Protesters and protest organizers who infringe on the rights of other citizens to go about their daily lives will need to be held accountable,” he stated.
Mehdizadeh stressed his officers would continue to have discretion as to how to enforce public health orders, and they would not be taking a “heavy handed” approach.
However, he confirmed, his officers will begin to issue public health violation tickets and may lay other charges as needed when faced with extreme protest actions which endanger the broader public or threaten the health of the community.
“It is not the intention of Lethbridge Police Service to inhibit others who wish to bring attention to their own particular views and opinions; as long as it is done in a safe, sensible and respectful manner,” he said. “Those who intrude on the ability of others to enjoy all this community has to offer, however, must be and will be held accountable.”
Mehdizadeh confirmed up until now his officers have not issued any public health violation tickets to individuals or groups in the community, preferring to issue warnings while working to educate the broader public on the importance of complying with public health orders and wearing a mask. He said everyone in Lethbridge is aware by now of the importance of doing so, but there are still a small number who refuse to comply. And there is even a smaller, extreme number who choose to elevate their non-compliance to the level where they are intentionally violating the safety of other community members by their actions, he said.
“(So far) we have taken the route of dialogue and education, and awareness,” he said. “As much as there is a minority of individuals who don’t agree with these rules for their own reasons, the way I look at it is they are putting the community at risk. They are, in fact, infringing on the rights and freedoms of other citizens, which is contradictory to the reasons why they are even planning these (protest) events. They are putting everybody at risk. We are in a pandemic, and I believe the days of just talk and education are over.”
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