Edmonton plans to push province for power to fine in COVID-19

The City of Edmonton is preparing to ask the province for the power to enforce public health orders concerning COVID-19, council’s executive committee agreed Thursday. 

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin told councillors that municipal peace officers continue to keep an eye on public behaviour for things like physical distancing. 

But city bylaw officers no longer have the authority to give out fines under the Public Health Act — it’s up to Edmonton police and Alberta Health inspectors to enforce the orders.

“One of the things we’ve identified is, potentially looking at more empowerment for those peace officers around enforcement of the Public Health Act,” Laughlin told councillors. “That level of enforcement does help to ensure there’s compliance.”

Municipal bylaw and peace officers are authorized to ticket people for not wearing a mask under the city’s face covering bylaw, in place since Aug. 1. 

In late March, the Alberta government issued a special order giving municipal bylaw officers the power to fine people neglecting to isolate or physical distance when required.

When the province cancelled the public health emergency, those powers were rescinded.

Having more autonomy to hand out fines would require amendments to the emergency management bylaw. 

Mayor Don Iveson said the city would rather delegate the authority to peace officers directly to uphold provincial health orders. 

“It seems to me obvious that they should be able to do that,” Iveson said. “That’s an area where the legislation can be tightened up.” 

Councillors agreed the city should work with other municipalities and compare notes on the emergency management bylaw and look for those gaps. 

“We’ll work to try to provide a unified submission to the government of Alberta for some constructive improvements to the legislation that will help us be nimble,” Iveson said. 

Administration is expected to report back in January 2021 with recommendations on amending the bylaw.

The motion emerged from Laughlin’s update to councillors on how the city has managed the pandemic. 

Laughlin said, in retrospect, the city could have used more firm direction from the province on making face coverings mandatory in indoor public places.

“One of the learnings for me was potentially a little bit more push with the health authority around getting more specific advice on that,” Laughlin said. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney consistently said it was up to municipalities to decide whether to mandate masks in public.

Coun. Scott McKeen said he’s worried about the growing number of cases in Edmonton. 

“I’m a little concerned about growing numbers and the risk of a second wave.” 

He suggested the city work closely with businesses and the hospitality industry, pointing to other jurisdictions around the world using contact tracing methods.  

“So you’re asking people to turn in or reveal a way to contact them and still ensure privacy if they were attending an event or restaurant, that sort of thing.”

Council is scheduled to get the next update on the city’s response to the pandemic at an emergency advisory committee meeting Oct. 15.

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